Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A Vietnamese court has sentenced the pastor of a banned Mennonite church to 11 years in prison for undermining national unity. State media today reported Tuesday that Nguyen Cong Chinh was found guilty of writing and spreading material that slandered government authorities and "distorted Vietnam's domestic situation." He was also accused of ties with anti-government groups. Rev Chinh's conviction is the latest case of religious repression in Vietnam but not the only one. Yesterday, Vietnamese authorities denied entry to a Vatican commission working on the cause of beatification of Card Văn Thuận.
Rev Nguyen Cong Chinh, a 43-year-old Mennonite clergyman, was accused of sending documents to anti-government organisations in Vietnam and overseas. "He distorted the domestic situation, calumniating the government, the state and the army in interviews with the foreign media," the English-language Vietnam News daily said, quoting the court.
His one-day trial was held yesterday in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, where Chinh was arrested in April 2011.
For Human Rights Watch, Chinh's conviction is "yet another demonstration" that Vietnam disregards freedom of religion.
Government repression is especially hard on small minority groups and sects that are not affiliated with state-sanctioned religious associations.
Mennonites are the largest Anabaptist group, with about 1.5 million members around the world, especially in the United States, Canada, Africa and India. In Vietnam, they have no official status.
Today's conviction comes after the authorities cancelled entry visas for a Vatican commission travelling to the Southeast Asian nation to hear the cause of beatification of Card Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận. Card Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and was due to visit Vietnam from 23 March to 9 April, was scheduled to lead the Holy See delegation.