In Vietnam's central highlands, several churches were banned from operating causing difficulties among the believers as they were constantly being monitored. This report reached the United States Consulate, so they sent two staff and a Vietnamese interpreter, to find out if there were human rights violations or issues on religious freedom. However, they were forced to leave without speaking with the believers from the two churches that they visited because they were blocked by local authorities including local police and villagers. Even after the representative from the local authorities said that they do not obstruct or persecute the church, still the consular officers were not allowed to contact the church members.
Two United States Consulate staff and their Vietnamese interpreter were stopped when they were about to enter two churches in Vietnam’s central highlands late February 2023.
“There were some heated arguments as the local authorities and villagers did not allow the embassy staff to meet with the believers. They have blocked their way and they argued with the believers,” said Thien Nhi*, an Open Doors’ local partner.
She added, “The visit was to find out if there were human rights violations or issues on religious freedom since there were reports of church activities being disturbed and their gatherings stopped.”
In the past year, several churches in this area were banned from operating by the local government which caused difficulties for the believers as they were constantly monitored. These churches were linked to the Dega group and its movement. The Dega is a group of ethnic tribes in the central highlands region of Vietnam commonly called Montagnard authorities which means “mountain dwellers.” During the Vietnam War, the Dega formed a movement to advocate for their rights and autonomy from North and South Vietnam. Since then, the government considered them as ‘separatists’, and “the beliefs of Dega Christians beliefs are labeled by the Vietnamese government as an ‘evil way’ religion” (Genocide Watch, February 2022).
The US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam heard about these incidents, so they stepped in to verify the incidents and to help raise the voices of the believers for them to practice their religion freely.
In a video shared by one of OD local contacts, it can be seen that the consular officers were hindered from entering the church premises. A local government representative explained to the consular staff that outsiders like them stir up peace and order in the community.
He said, “Many members of the church are influenced by outsiders, affecting the villagers and the state. The state does not obstruct or persecute the church.”
Even with this, the consular officers were not allowed any contact with the church members and they had no choice but to leave the area without the opportunity to talk with the believers.
“The gate was blocked by the local authorities including local police in plain clothes with their faces covered. The church members and the pastors were not able to contact any of the staff,” said Joshua*, another Open Doors local partner. One of the tribal churches has 60 members
*Names were changed for security and safety purposes