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Vietnam Christians re-housed after ordeal

Move suggests a positive change in official attitude

Mike MacLachlan, London
Vietnam

July 3, 2013

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Five Christian families driven from their homes by unknown attackers have been resettled by Vietnamese authorities, according to the rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

“If this sets a precedent it could prevent [such attacks] as would-be perpetrators get the message that freedom of religion is a protected right in Vietnam,” CSW said in a statement on Tuesday.

The families, from the Central Highlands, converted to Christianity early last year but it was not until this January that the attacks began.

For three months the families faced physical assault, damage to buildings and farmland and destruction of crops and livestock.

“Sources close to the families say the aim was to pressure the families to recant their faith,” CSW said. Instead they fled into the forest.

Their case was taken up by rights advocates, including a Protestant leader who was able to meet local and provincial officials.

The authorities decided they could not guarantee the families’ safety in their own village, but resettled them in the same district, provided support and promised compensation, CSW said.

The apparent softening in attitude by the authorities comes a week after a joint press release following talks between Vietnam and the Vatican stressed Hanoi’s “respect and assurance of freedom of religion and religious beliefs.”

“We warmly welcome the Vietnamese authorities’ efforts to resettle these families,” said Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s chief executive.

But, pointing out that CSW had also received reports of two other Christian families being interrogated and a woman beaten by police, he urged the government to “take measures to prosecute state and non-state actors who are found to have violated the rights of religious minorities.”

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