Religious persecution against Hmong Christians in Vietnam appears to be ramping up. Watchdog group International Christian Concern (ICC) reports that last November and December in the village of Phá Lóm, authorities antagonized 33 Hmong believers, demanding they renounce their faith. Officials then continued to threaten the believers when they refused to do so.
“In a communist country where Christianity is often seen as unpatriotic or a threat to the regime, Hmong Christians constantly face discrimination, harassment, land grabs, torture and imprisonment,” ICC’s Gina Goh writes
The authorities first accosted the Hmong Christians last fall. When the Christians remained faithful to their beliefs, officials subsequently raided them three times in November and December. Authorities had arrested and beaten four of those 33 people earlier in the year. The officials, known as the Interdisciplinary Inspection Team, then brought the Hmong Christians to trial before the community, presenting them with a statue of Buddha and insisting that they worship it.
According to the ICC, the inspection team’s leader, Mr. Dzhung, stated that in Vietnam everyone must follow Buddha and that those who don’t must leave the country. The ICC did not relate how the incident between the government and the Hmong Christians resolved.
Christianity Grows Among the Hmong
The Hmong people are an ethnic group located throughout Vietnam, China, Thailand and Laos. According to The Diplomat, “Their shared ethnic identity is built around speaking mutually intelligible languages and sharing the same clan surnames.” There are about four million Hmong in southeast Asia, not counting those who have emigrated to the U.S. and Australia. Out of the 1 million Hmong in Vietnam, 300,000 are reportedly Christians.
In Vietnam, the Hmong are an underprivileged group. They are geographically isolated with high levels of poverty and low levels of education. Yet Christianity has been flourishing among them since the 1980s when the Hmong discovered an evangelistic radio program in their own language. Christianity spread among the Hmong despite the fact that government authorities associated Christianity with Western imperialism and throughout the years have persecuted believers both blatantly and covertly.
This persecution appears to be increasing, particularly toward those who live in the countryside. In March of 2018, a mob of people attacked 24 Hmong who had recently converted to Christianity. Prior to the attack, officials had warned the believers that they would be forced to leave their village if they did not abandon their faith. There are additional stories of recent religious persecution in Vietnam, and the ICC expects this hostility to grow in 2019.
Vietnam does technically have legal measures in place to protect religious freedom. The Law on Belief and Religion went into effect in January of 2018, but seems to be ineffectual when it comes to protecting minorities in rural areas of the country.
According to Mission Network News, Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs says that the law is applied inconsistently throughout Vietnam, depending on location: “We still see churches in cities meeting together with very little interference from the government. We still see Christians in rural areas, especially minority ethnic tribal groups, facing heavy persecution.”
Even so, the primary desire of Vietnamese believers seems to be to remain faithful to Christ. Nettleton describes talking to a Vietnamese Christian who told him, “Pray that we’ll keep sharing the Gospel and that other people will keep coming to know Christ in a personal way in Vietnam.”