HANOI: Christian Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh thought he was helping Vietnam’s Christian community by having a house church. However, the church was not registered with the government and the 43-year-old has been sentenced to 11 years in jail for “disrupting national unity.”
The one-day trial in Gia Lia province has left many questioning the role of faith and Vietnam’s communism. But ultimately, the case, which saw Chinh admit to being in charge of the Mennonite church in the Central Highlands, has left Christians fearful that a backlash, even violence, could become more common.
“11 years in jail because he didn’t register a church that was not hurting anyone? I am shocked,” said Christian woman in Hanoi Pham Nhat, who told Bikyamasr.com she knew people who attended Chinh’s church.
“They always spoke so highly of him and how he was a giving person, so it is wrong that he has to go to jail for his faith,” she added.
Chinh, who was arrested in April, was also convicted of handing out anti-government leaflets and “enticing ethnic minorities to commit wrongdoing,” the report said.
In communist Vietnam all churches have to be sanctioned by the state, a system criticized by rights groups.
“The overarching atmosphere for religious freedom in Vietnam is hostile,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. He called the compulsory registration of religious groups and organisations “a deeply bureaucratic process riddled with pitfalls and Catch 22s.”
Chinh’s case highlights the strange relationship between religion and politics in Vietnam. Political analysts say that while the system is opening up, those responsible for religious institutions must be ready to follow all the regulations no matter what.
“We have to be aware that even though Vietnam is for the most part liberalizing the current rules and regulations for these kinds of things, they don’t want to be seen as relaxed when people don’t follow the law,” said Hanoi University professor Gi Ungien.
For now, the Christian community will have to wait for Nguyen’s release and whether he will receive any form of clemency.
“I really hope so because he is a good man,” added Pham.
Source: Bikyamasr, International Christian Concern