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Updated: June 16, 1992 05:00 PM GMT
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Since 1990 the Vietnamese government has arrested at least 60 political prisoners, including 20 Protestant pastors, 16 Protestant lay activists, three lay Catholics and one Catholic priest, according to a report released in June by the human rights monitor Amnesty International (AI).

The Protestant pastors reportedly were accused of "illegal preaching," "pursuing religious practice without permission," "opposition to the policy of the government under the guise of religion," and "disturbing the peace" by holding unauthorized meetings attended by their religious followers.

At least 16 Protestant religious activists and lay workers from the "Jeh," "Jerai" and "Koho" tribes in central Vietnam also were reported arrested in the last two years for their alleged association with unofficial Christian groups involved in non-violent religious activities.

The London-based AI believes all are prisoners of conscience held for the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs.

The Catholics apparently were arrested for writing and signing an open letter to Archbishop Nguyen Van Binh of Ho Chi Minh City. The letter, released in August 1989, argued for greater independence for the Church from the state and urged the Catholic Church to take a more critical attitude toward government policies.

Father Stephen Chan Tin and Nguyen Ngoc Lan, a former Catholic priest, were the chief writers of the letter, which was signed by 14 people.

They have been under house arrest since May 16, 1990. Father Chan reportedly is confined in a small Redemptorist church, not his normal residence, in Tanh Thanh village near Ho Chi Minh City.

Ngo Van An, a former Catholic high school teacher, and Doan Thanh Liem, a lawyer, both signed the letter to the archbishop and have been detained.

All Catholic religious activity in Vietnam is overseen by a state-sanctioned body, the Committee for the Solidarity of Vietnamese Catholics.

Protestants have no unified official Church organization. Most Protestant Churches in the south, where the vast majority of Christians live, belong to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam, but have resisted a nationwide group.

Of the reported 200,000-300,000 Protestant Christians in the south and central regions of the country, about a third are "Montagnards," the French term for ethnic minorities in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese authorities apparently suspect some members of Protestant churches of having links with the "Front Unifie de la Lutte pour les Races Opprimees (FULRO, the Unified Front for the Struggle of Oppressed Races), an armed insurgent movement led by Montagnards.

In recent years, Protestant tribal members seem to have resorted to membership in unofficial "house Churches" and hold meetings in private to continue their religious activities since large public services are suspected by police authorities.

House Churches are considered illegal if their leaders have not received offical permission to preach or to gather their members in an assembly.

Police authorities have reportedly interrogated many members of unofficial house Churches since February 1991 about their religious activities.


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