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Church leader dies in police custody

Body showed signs of torture, says rights group

Mike MacLachlan, London

April 3, 2013

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A church leader has died in police custody in Vietnam, the rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says.

Photographs taken soon after the death of Vam Ngaij Vaj show “severe and bloody bruising” on his back and neck, CSW said in a statement on Tuesday.

“CSW calls on the Vietnamese government to fully investigate the circumstances in light of signs that he was tortured,” said the group’s chief executive, Mervyn Thomas.

Vaj, an elder of a church affiliated to the officially recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) and a member of the Hmong minority, was arrested for “destroying the forest” while clearing brush from his field with his wife, CSW said.

He was arrested on March 16 and died just a day later. Police claim he had accidentally put his hand into an electric socket, CSW said.

But the US Morningstar News website quoted a local Hmong leader as saying he may have been electrocuted as well as beaten.

The incident occurred in Dak Nong province in the Central Highlands and CSW said sources there report that the charge of destroying the forest is used to intimidate local Christians, many of whom fled to the area from further north to escape religious persecution.

It says it received reports last month of harassment and intimidation by local authorities and “thugs working with them.”

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