By Michael BengeJune 12, 2011

For many Vietnamveterans, Memorial Day was for remembering not only those Americans who died inthe Vietnam War, but also our counterparts — the Vietnamese, Laotians, andCambodians who died fighting for freedom, and for all who still sufferpersecution under the brutal communist regimes of those countries.

It seemed that Vietnam’s wave of human rights violations andreligious persecution might have peaked with the arrest and detention of over1,500 activists for democracy, human rights, and religious freedom prior to thenation’s 11th Congress of the Communist Party, but the brutal communist regimemay have outdone itself with last month’s reported slaughter of over 75 ethnic Hmong ChristiansHundredsmore were wounded and/or arrested and taken to undisclosed locations.

An estimated 9,000 Hmong, mainlyCatholics and Protestant Christians, gathered in the Muong district in North Vietnam‘s province on May 1 to honor the beatification of PopeJohn Paul IIAccording to Catholic sources, thelate “Polish Pope,” who had opposed both fascist Nazis forces andcommunist totalitarianism, is a source of inspiration to many Vietnamese,Laotian, Cambodian, and Hmong Christian believers dueto the courageous moral conduct of his life and his powerful call to “benot afraid” in challenging social injustice and Stalinist-type regimesaround the world.

The religious services honoring the pope evolved intopeaceful protests by Hmong seeking religious freedomand the cessation of human rights abuses, institutional corruption, socialinjustice, and land-grabbing is one of Vietnam‘spoorest provinces, located in the remote and mountainous area bordering Laosand ChinaThe province’s estimated 170,000 Hmongrepresent 35 percent of its population (1.24% of total), with the Hmong earning less than a tenth ofthe average annual income of the Vietnamese.

As was the case during similar protests by Montagnard Christians in 2001 in the Central Highlands, andin true fascist form, communist officials overreacted by deploying thousands oftroops, special police, and MI-24 “Hind” helicopter gunshipsAll outsidecommunication was shut down, the electricity was cut off, the province wascordoned off to prevent anyone from entering or leaving, and all news media andforeigners were banned from the areaSome Hmong demonstrators were able to escape into the nearbymountains, where they were hunted by heliborne ” Cong” Special Forces unitsSome of the fleeing Hmong are reported to havebeen summarily executed when caughtAt leasttwo Hmong mountain villages and several enclavessuspected of harboring fleeing protesters were attacked by the gunships armed with rockets, cannons, and Gatling gunsIt is notknown how many were killed or wounded.

Ethnic cleansing “is a purposeful policy designed byone ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring meansthe civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certaingeographic areas” (Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to UnitedNations Security Council Resolution 780).  With the Montagnards in 2001, and currently with the Hmong, the Vietnamese communist regime is guilty as sin ofethnic cleansing.

Article 70 of the 1992 Constitution of the SocialistRepublic of Vietnam provides that “the citizen shall enjoy freedom ofbelief and religion; he can follow any religion or follow none. All religionsare equal before the law. The places of worship of all faiths and religions areprotected by the law. No one can violate freedom of belief and ofreligion.”

However, Article 70 contains this caveat: “nor cananyone misuse beliefs and religions to contravene the law, and State policies.This caveat is further defined in the Ordinanceon Beliefs and Religions, not to mention the Constitution (Government Decree22/2005) and Government Decree 26/1999 that is based on a directive of theCommunist Party (No.37 CT/TW).

The laws cited above are full of ambiguities andcontradictions and provide no criteria as to what is considered”misuse,” but they fundamentally state that all religions, religiousdenominations, churches, clergy, and religious activities must be approved bythe central government in order to be legalEthnicminority Christians are regularly harassed, beaten, and tortured in attempts bycommunist officials to force them to renounce their beliefs in GodThe Vietnamese government is now proposingamendments to the already harsh existing laws that will further restrictfreedom of worship and all church-related activities.

Vietnamrequires that the bestowal of religious titles (“Bishop” and”Cardinal” in particular) must be approved by the government, whichon several occasions has rejected candidates proposed by the VaticanVietnamese officials will not allow Catholic prieststo serve the four Catholic communities in the region in what is called a “white zone,” inwhich the level of religious restriction is the highest in the country.

Anyone who participates in unauthorized religiousactivities, including outdoor prayer services, protests, or demonstrations, isguilty of “undermining Vietnam‘snational unity,” a crime that carries a prison sentence of ten years ormoreEven if the HmongChristians had not held peaceful protests, the mere fact that they conductedopen-air prayer services to honor the beatification of Pope John Paul II makesthem subject to arrest and imprisonment.

During the Hmong protests, theVietnamese communist propaganda machine had agitprop specialists, communistchurch clerics, and secret police out in force mingling with the protestersSome propagandists declared that they were”awaiting God to take them to the Promised Land,” while othersclaimed to advocate the establishment of an autonomous HmongkingdomThese disinformation themes gaveVietnamese authorities an excuse to label the protestors as “cultmembers,” “irredentists,” “extremists,” and”anti-revolutionary activists,” thereby justifying the use of armedforce against Hmong Christian believers.

These themes have been repeated over and over again by Hanoi‘sstate-run media and, unfortunately, many foreign news media willing to parrottheir propagandaThe Vietnamese communistssubscribe to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels‘theory that if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people willeventually come to believe it.

Human rights groups have called for investigations into theatrocities, and the U.S. Embassy in Hanoihas also vowed to investigate the matterHowever,the truth may never be knownA trickle ofinformation has come from VietCatholic and Vaticannews services, and from some local NGOs that somehow circumvented the shutdownof communicationsThe Vietnamese communistapparatus restricts free travel and controls all media, and the communistofficials and their puppet clerics are the only ones allowed to speak toforeign officials and news reportersOutsidersare closely watched by the policeForeignersare not allowed to freely travel in the area and must always be accompanied bygovernment chaperones.

The State Department will no doubt mention the persecuted Hmong Christians in its Annual Report on Human RightsYet State has continually refused to do anythingthat might be deemed punitive, such as designating Vietnamas a Country of Particular Concern regarding religious persecution, which mightupset the delicate feelings of the communist regimeNeedlessto say, President Obama seems oblivious to theongoing religious persecution and human rights abuses.

In other words, the band plays on.

Michael Benge spent eleven years in VietnamForeignService Officer and five years as a POWHe is astudent of Southeast Asian politicsHe is veryactive in advocating for human rights and religious freedom and has writtenextensively on these subjects.


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