Sunday, September 18, 2005

Radio Free Asia's report on alleged Protestant home burning in Viet Nam is rejected as "base slander".

On August 28, RFA alleged that "homes of some Protestants in...Quang Ngai Province were recently pulled down and burned because they refused to drop their belief."

The Radio quoted a General Confederation of Viet Nam Protestant Church (Southern region) "representative", missionary Dinh Tan Vinh, as saying that "several local authorities, including the head and the deputy of the commune police, at 8am, August 21, came to Dinh Van Hoang's home and told him that Protestants were not welcome in the district. They asked Hoang to sign a behest to quit the religion and threatened to destroy his home if he refused to follow their request. Later, (some commune officials) together with some war veterans, rushed to Hoang's home, pulled it down and burned all his property."

Vinh was also quoted by the RFA as saying that "On July 26, seven other homes of Protestants...were also destroyed for religious reasons. On July 31, local authorities mobilised villagers to destroy two more homes of Protestants, while another Protestant family was forced to leave their home, raising to 10 the number of Protestant families who had their homes destroyed."

But is this really the truth?
The Viet Nam News Agency did a detailed investigation, and came up with a different story.

1/ The person mentioned by the RFA is not actually called Dinh Van Hoang.

His real name is Dinh Minh Hoang. The VNA gives more details about him, including that he was formerly a cadre in charge of social affairs and war veterans, and "was not a good citizen and was kicked out of the community several times", for abusing "the educational limitations of the local ethnic minority groups to preach illegally. He was advised several times not to lure people to blindly believe in nonsense and refuse to work..."

According to VNA, he continued to incite people not to work, saying "only by believing in religion and preaching religion, would one be given everything by God." His illegal preaching, however, did not blind everyone for long, and many returned to work. Many locals had recognised Hoang's lies, and held a meeting to advise him not to continue with his activities. Instead, Hoang refused to take the advice and challenged the community.

Hoang also hurt the sentiments of the H're ethnic minority community by destroying their (cemetery) several times, despite warning from local ethnic minority people. His behaviour had tested the patience of the community members, forcing them to burn his house. But after this incident, local authorities and social organisations mobilised locals to contribute working days and materials to rebuild his house. During the reconstruction, Hoang left the family to continue his illegal preaching in other villages. When asked, his wife said her only wish was for her husband to give up his illegal activities and return to his family.

2/ The houses of the 10 Protestant families were not destroyed for religious reasons, as reported by RFA. They were being relocated to a new area, with funding from the Government's 134 programme, as their original residences were prone to landslides, especially during the flood season. (Also, they were not from the hamlet named by the RFA, but another one.) According to District authorities, who financially assisted these poor ethnic K'dong minority families, the new houses are now in safe areas close to roads and schools, and advantageous for production.

3/ Who is Dinh Tan Vinh?

He is not "a representative" of the General Confederation of Viet Nam Protestant Church (Southern region) as stated by RFA. He is a religious follower, and does not have any legal status to represent the Confederation. According to Le Phuong Tuan, head of the central Quang Ngai Province's religious board, the Viet Nam Protestant Church has 5 chapters in the Province, managed by pastors, and operating in accordance with Viet Nam's laws.

4/ The RFA has fabricated a story to slander Viet Nam by spreading rumours of religious intolerance.
There are nearly 1 million Protestants in Viet Nam. They enjoy the freedom to practise their religion in line with Viet Nam's laws. The VNA report concludes: "No one has faced difficulties, or had their houses demolished, for following a religion, as imagined by the RFA. This is the truth..."

(From a story published in the Viet Nam News, the English language daily newspaper, on Monday September 5, 2005. For further news from and about Viet Nam, check out: )

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