Authorities Twice raid Mennonite Center

Binh Khanh, Vietnam - While believers met for prayer in the District 2 Mennonite center Sunday evening -- just five days after authorities demolished half of the building -- officials forced their way in to disband the meeting.

In spite of the destruction of much of their church center last Tuesday (July 19), 15 Mennonites gathered in the remainder of the building for prayer at 7 p.m. on July 24. Just after they began, about 30 officials, including police, security forces and local defense forces, as well as a local community leader, arrived to break up the meeting.

Half of the officials secured the area around the center while others, led by police officer Nguyen Quang Trung, pushed their way in. As Christians were praying quietly, Trung shouted at them to stop and ordered Le Thi Phu Dzung (wife of imprisoned pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, and co-owner with him of the building) to disband the meeting.

Force Dealing with "Mennonite Problem"

Trung then cited Dzung for “gathering a crowd and disturbing public order.” At the same time, a special work force of the ward created to deal with the “Mennonite problem” cited Dzung for “conducting illegal religious activities” -- a common tactic against unregistered house churches even as the government impedes their efforts to register. Dzung was summoned to appear at the Binh Khanh Ward office on July 25 to “resolve the violation.”

Police insisted on checking the believers’ ID cards and forcibly escorted two men to the police station. One of those taken away was Le Quang Du, father of Le Thi Hong Lien, a young woman sentenced to prison last year along with the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang and others. Lien was so badly abused in prison that she suffered a mental breakdown. The two men were released after two hours of questioning.

Further Harassment

Officials returned to the Mennonite center just before 9 p.m. for a second raid, saying that someone had reported that Dzung had convened another meeting. Finding no meeting, the security police began to inspect the registration papers for the motorcycles parked inside the building. They threatened to take to the police station any vehicles without proper papers. Dzung strongly protested this as utterly unreasonable and demanded to see a search warrant. The security police left some 15 minutes later after making the Christians sign a paper that they were operating their vehicles legally.

Diplomatic Assurances No Help

A prominent house church leader remarked that the May 2005 U.S.-Vietnam agreement on improving religious liberty was on trial. Dzung had received some “assurances” from a U.S. diplomat who visited the Mennonite center just hours after it was partly demolished last week. According to the house church leader, the continued use of force and harassment against the Mennonites is “evidence that central government authorities have no power over local officials, or that the new religious legislation was intended to deceive everyone. It seems clear that even open American interest in this case means nothing to Vietnamese authorities.”

There have now been at least 80 official actions against the Mennonite center in District 2 since the arrest of Quang on June 8, 2004. He remains in a prison camp in Dak Lak province, suffering occasional blackouts from the hard labor he is forced to do daily. His 31-year-old wife, mother of their three young children, was elected head of the Vietnam Mennonite Church in June and now takes the brunt of the state’s brutality toward the Mennonite house church organization.