Protestant clergyman sentenced to three years in prison

Vietnam: Nguyen Hong Quang, a Mennonite pastor, was sentenced to three years in prison “for activities against local authorities”. Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Court convicted five more people to prison terms ranging from nine months to two years. The trial, which lasted only one day, was closed to foreign journalists.

Rev Nguyen Hong Quang was arrested on June 8 whilst hosting a scout meeting in his house in a Hanoi suburb. Trained as a lawyer, he is secretary general of the Mennonite Church—which the Vietnamese government considers illegal—, a human rights activist, defender of religious freedom, and an advocate for the rights of the Montagnard minority, farmers and political prisoners.

Judicial authorities said that he was not arrested for religious reasons, but because “he was inciting the population to resist public security officers”. The charge dates back to an incident on March 2, when Nguyen Hong Quang led tens of people in a protest against the incarceration of four Mennonite clergymen.

Rev Nguyen’s sentence is the latest in a series or repressive steps taken by the authorities against Mennonites and other Christians in Vietnam. Last month, the police demolished a Mennonite chapel in Kontum province. According to Human Right Watch, this action highlights the government’s increasingly repressive policy vis-à-vis religious freedom.

A new law—Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions—will go into effect on November 15 further restricting it. Its goal is not only to control religious organisations but also religious opinion.

Vietnam’s Catholic bishops as well as other religious leaders have condemned the law as a violation of the Church’s autonomy.

Mgr Étienne Nguyên Nhu Thê, Bishop of Huê, told AsiaNews that this law is “a system of permits and concessions that limits full religious freedom.” (LF)