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Jailed Vietnamese Christian is a victim of ‘wrongful conviction’

Religious freedom activist Nay Y Blang was charged with incitement and secession for holding religious prayer meetings
The People's Court of Phu Yen province sentenced religious freedom activist Nay Y Blang to four years and six months in prison for the crime of abusing democratic freedoms during the trial on Jan. 26, 2024.

The People's Court of Phu Yen province sentenced religious freedom activist Nay Y Blang to four years and six months in prison for the crime of abusing democratic freedoms during the trial on Jan. 26, 2024. (Courtesy: Cong An Nhan Dan via RFA)

Published: January 29, 2024 12:06 PM GMT
Updated: January 31, 2024 05:46 AM GMT

A Vietnamese Christian recently jailed on charges of incitement and secession was denied proper legal representation in the court and is a victim of wrongful conviction, media reports say.

Charges against Nay Y Blang, 48, a member of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, were fabricated, said the church’s founder Pastor Aga, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Jan. 26.

The church is not recognized by Vietnam’s communist government.

The People's Court of Phu Yen province sentenced Blang, a religious freedom activist and a member of the Ede ethnic group in the Central Highlands, to four years and six months in jail, pro-government Vietnamese language outlet, Tuoi Tre Online reported.

Blang was accused of committing crimes by allegedly holding a religious prayer meeting at his home.

He was accused of using these meetings to “gather forces, divide the national unity bloc, incite secession, self-rule, and establish a separate state for ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands,” and was convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms,” the pro-government newspaper reported.

Pastor Aga, who goes by a single name and is now based in North Carolina, US, accused the police officials in Phu Yen province of forcing Blang's family to retract the permission for legal representation given to lawyer Ha Huy Son.

“This is unacceptable. If lawyer Ha Huy Son had been present …, it would have clearly been fair and transparent trial to see if Mr. Blang is guilty or not,” Aga said.

“But in reality, only people from the government were present, meaning the government can give Blang any sentence they want. Why were there no lawyers to defend or argue about legal issues?” Aga added.

Son, the lawyer, told RFA that the permission he had received to represent Blang was canceled. He refrained from providing any reason or commenting any further on the issue.

Blang was found guilty of "abusing democratic freedoms and belief freedoms to entice and incite others to infringe upon the interests of the State, legitimate rights and interests of agencies, organizations, and individuals," the court verdict said.

Blang was also charged with providing false information about freedom of religious belief in Song Hinh district, Tuoi Tre Online reported.

He was also charged with slander, misrepresentation of religious policies, and infringing upon the interests of the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Blang had admitted his offenses and had requested the jury to consider “mitigating the punishment so that he could soon return to his family, and reintegrate into the community,” according to the pro-regime newspaper.

Aga told RFA that the charges against Blang were all fabricated and the trial was a farce.

“Blang has told the truth with evidence, from invitations to summons, video images from Phu Yen province police to suppression of harassment, arrests, confiscation of motorbikes, and fines,” Aga said.

“There is evidence, it [Blang’s activities] is not slandering the government or slandering the police of Phu Yen province,” Aga emphasized.

The officials at the Security Investigation Agency of the Phu Yen provincial police declined to comment on Blang’s case.

Aga said that the Evangelical church that he had founded was purely religious.

The church is "not reactionary, not against the state, not intending to establish a separate state," Aga said.

"We just want to express our religious beliefs, our own religion, to worship God and follow the religion that suits us, while still following the laws of the Vietnamese government,” Aga added.

This is the third time that Blang has been convicted.

In September 2022, Blang was fined 4 million Vietnamese Dong (around US$163) by the People's Committee of Song Hinh district for "abusing democratic freedoms and belief freedoms,” Tuoi Tre Online reported.

He was convicted of enticing and inciting “others to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of agencies, organizations, and individuals.”

In April 2005, Blang was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison by Phu Yen province for "undermining the unity policy.”

Religious freedom is limited in the officially atheist Vietnam. The government allows religious activities as mandated by strict laws and regulations.

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