05/09/2011, 00.00
VIETNAM

Vietnam unleashes wave of repression against Hmong Christians, at least 49 dead

by Emily Nguyen
Army and security forces attack thousands of demonstrators calling for reforms and respect for religious freedom. Hundreds of arrests and disappearances. Electricity and communications cut. The U.S. Embassy announces its intention to investigate the matter.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - At least 49 dead, hundreds injured and an unspecified number of arrests: this is the toll from a wave of bloody repression unleashed by the security forces against the Vietnamese Christians (pictured: a Hmong house church) and animists, from the Hmong community, a ethnic minority that lives in the northwest of the country and in Laos.

The episode began April 30, at Muong Nhe, Dien Bien province, where about 8,500 Hmong gathered to pray and ask for reforms and religious freedom. The event was interrupted by a violent intervention of the People's Army and security forces, who killed and wounded believers and made hundreds of arrests, deporting many of the detainees to undisclosed locations in Vietnam and Laos where, according to Christy Lee, Executive Director of Hmong Advance, Inc. (HAI) in Washington, DC, "they could have been tortured or killed, or simplify disappeared". All electricity and communications with the area have been cut.

Among those arrested are some extraordinary Eucharistic ministers who serve the four Catholic communities of the region. In the area there are a thousand registered Catholics, who pray to God with discretion in what is called "white zone" in which the level of violation of religious freedom is the highest in the country. And there are Christians who have emigrated to keep the faith. Until now, Catholic priests have only been able to go twice to Muong Nhe, posing as tourists and were under continuous surveillance and followed by police officers who controlled their every move to prevent any attempt at evangelization.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Information and army officers, through the official VNA, accuse the protesters of being irredentists operating at the instigation of "reactionaries who cheat the popular credulity spreading rumours about the presence of a supernatural power and calling for a separate empire of the Hmong people. " Hanoi has tried to close the area and drive the population from the mountains and jungle.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi has stated that it will investigate the incident, which occurred just two days after the report of the Commission on International Religious Freedom which asked the State Department to put Vietnam on the list of countries of "particular concern for the respect of religious freedom."

The Hmong are one of the 53 ethnic groups in Vietnam and count about 790 thousand people. During the war, they gave aid to the Americans and at the end of the conflict, many emigrated to America. Those who remain live below the poverty level, indicated by the World Bank. Like other ethnic minorities they had greater contact with Christianity and many have converted.

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