Hmong men walk their buffalos to a market in Vietnam's northern mountainous province of Lao Cai in this Dec. 20, 2015 file photo. The Hmong live mainly in mountainous areas in China, Vietnam and Laos. (Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP)
An attack earlier this month in which 24 newly converted Hmong Christians were set upon by a mob seeking to force them to renounce their faith, underlines the poor state of religious freedom in Vietnam, according to a rights group.
The villagers, from Vietnam's northwestern highlands were attacked on March 1. Four people were taken to hospital with head injuries.
Prior to the attack local authorities warned them that they would be expelled from their village if they did not renounce their faith, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) said in statement.
"Such attacks and acts of harassment against religious communities have multiplied recently in Vietnam, despite the introduction of the new Law on Belief and Religion in January," VCHR said in a statement.
"The authorities are invoking the law to criminalize legitimate religious activities, creating a climate of impunity for a wide range of violations of freedom of religion or belief," the group added.
VCHR President Vo Van Ai said: "Religious persecution is a growing phenomenon" despite freedom of religion or belief being enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution.
According to VCHR, almost a third of the one million Hmong in Vietnam are Christians.
"These small Christian groups in the remote highland areas are being forced to join the larger, state-registered denominations," it said. "This is not only impractical — the churches are based in the large towns — but local Christians also object that state-registered churches have compromised on religious practices in order to obtain registration," it said
"Those who do not conform to these demands risk harassment and persecution, as in the case of the Hmong."
The rights group said conditions for religious believers have worsened since the Law on Belief and Religion was enacted, which imposes strict controls on religious activities.