WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2004 -- Four Hmong Christians who organized and led weekly worship services in a house church in Vietnams remote province of Ha Giang have now been officially sentenced for the vague offense of "disturbing public order." According to information just obtained by Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, the four Hmong Christians were sentenced to terms of 26 to 36 months in late March 2004. On April 6, Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom had urged the immediate release of ten Hmong Christians imprisoned on religious grounds. These four are among those ten "forgotten" Christians. They are now being held under harsh conditions of imprisonment. All are residents of Giap Trung Village, Thang Tin Commune, Ha Giang province, which has become the scene of an intensified anti-Christian campaign by Vietnamese officials. The men were arrested in November and December of 2003. The Center for Religious Freedom obtained a copy of a lengthy document of accusations against them which described meetings of 50 or 60 people taking place over six consecutive Sundays. The four are: Ly Chin Sang, age 60, a Christian since 1991, sentenced to 36 months. His wife is Giang Thi Ca and they have a 19-year-old son living at home. Ly Sin Quang, 28, son of Ly Chin Sang, above, has also been a Christian since 1991. He and his wife, Vang Thi Da, have four young children. [No length of sentence given.] Vang Chin Sang, age 56, sentenced to 36 months and a Christian since 1999, is married to Ma Thi Pang. They have a 13-year-old son at home. Vang My Ly, age 24, has been a Christian since 1991. He was sentenced to 26 months. His wife is named Ma Thi Di and the couple has three small children. Letters from the families describe the prisoners' hardships and make an urgent appeal for help, especially on behalf of the young children. The Center for Religious Freedom has obtained three additional letters written in March by Hmong Christians living in Xin Man District, also located in Ha Giang province. These letters detail the confiscation of Vietnamese Bibles, an electronic keyboard, numerous personal effects, and cash. The authors describe being threatened with fines unless they agree to abandon Christianity and reestablish an altar to their ancestors. Due to international pressure, Vietnamese authorities have recently begun to avoid referring to Christianity when making charges against believers, using the term "illegal religion" instead. The government recognizes as legitimate only Christians who were believers before the 1954 communist revolution. The Center reported last month that the Vietnamese military had used drug injections in Lai Chau province to pressure Hmong Christians to sign statements recanting their faith. And last November, the Center described the extradition of a key Hmong church leader, Ma Van Bay, from the southern province of Binh Phuoc. A trial in his case was announced for April 28, although the charges are not known. Center director Nina Shea describes persecuted Hmong Christians as "truly forgotten people, living up in the highlands, speaking their own language, and lacking influential contacts in the outside world.Hmong Christians, she observes, are twice victims, both as Christians and as members of a disfavored minority. Behind the friendly façade of normality that the Vietnamese government shows to investors and tourists lies a more sinister reality.

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