Vietnam war rumbles on, Christians branded 'the enemy'

Release International has completed a fact-finding visit and finds the Vietnam War is still rumbling on - with Christians now regarded as the enemy, says one of the leading persecution watchdogs, Release International.

Christians in Vietnam are being targeted as 'agents of America'. They describe torture and near starvation as the authorities threaten to kill them slowly.

Prisoners' wives and a former prisoner have been describing the way Christians from Vietnam's tribal highlands are routinely beaten, tortured and starved behind bars - in a land which supposedly guarantees freedom of religion.

'Esther' and 'Deborah' and former prisoner 'Silas' have been telling Release International about the ordeal suffered in jail by Christians calling for true freedom of worship and the return of land seized by the authorities. They tell their story in the latest edition of the webcast World Update on the Persecuted Church, available on www.releaseinternational.org

They travelled hundreds of miles and have taken a great risk to explode the myth of freedom of religion in Vietnam and to call for prayer and support for Christian prisoners.

Esther described how they set about 'Abraham', her husband, with a wooden club spiked with two long nails. Then they turned a snarling Alsatian on him, before lashing his unconscious body to their Jeep and dragging it along the road.

When they finally permitted Esther to see her husband she says: "He could not recognise me. He was like a dumb man. They had beaten him in the face and broken his jaw. He could not talk."

Esther and Abraham are Christians, from one of the mountain tribes of Vietnam.

"My husband requested freedom for the tribal people, and freedom to worship God." Esther explains. "And he asked for this publicly."

'Job', another Christian prisoner, also called for freedom of worship - a freedom guaranteed under Vietnamese law.

Despite those legal guarantees, the authorities closed Job's village church and confiscated their land - measures commonplace in the tribal highlands of Vietnam, where unregistered Christians are regarded with suspicion as enemy agents working to undermine communism.

They accused Job of being involved with separatists, tortured him to extract a confession and threw him behind bars.

Now Job and those imprisoned with him are barely kept alive. To ease their constant hunger they eat leaves and the bark of trees. Their only vegetables have been grown in human dung.

Church worker Silas was arrested after a peaceful protest over the seizure of land used to grow cashew nuts. Silas insisted he had not even attended the demonstration, but they beat him and tortured him for three months to try to extract a confession.

"They beat me at all my pressure points over my whole body to make me weak,' says Silas. 'They told me: "You will die slowly"."

Deborah's husband Job suffered the same. "Over four months they beat up his whole body, hitting him in all the organs, beating him in so many ways that my husband dared not tell me everything."

Silas continues: "Every week they beat me twice, some weeks they beat me six times. One day they used a metal instrument to twist my fingers. It hurt so much I cried out."

But the worst torture was when they set fire to his beard while his hands were manacled behind him. All he could do was try to blow out the flames.

Eventually, when his body could stand no more, he passed out. "Then when I was unconscious, they took my hand and signed my name on a confession."

Silas says if it hadn't been for his faith in Jesus, he would have committed suicide. "I praise the Lord that he has never forsaken us."

Deborah and Esther are grateful their husbands are still alive. "It is because of God's mercy, his love and his grace that my husband, who is supposed to be dead already, is still alive today," says Esther.

Adds Deborah: "I thank God because he's always been with me, that I can walk in love, his strength and in his protection. The Lord is taking care. He knows, and is sending many brothers and sisters to help in all this time of need."

Release International and its partners are supporting families of prisoners of faith in Vietnam. Release is providing food, pastoral and medical aid, and supporting prisoners when they come out of jail.

A video report on Esther, Silas and Deborah, is available on the Release International website, and their story is told in the next edition of Witness magazine, also available from the website www.releaseinternational.org

Through its international network of missions Release International works to support persecuted Christians in some 30 nations. Release is supporting Christians imprisoned for their faith and their families. It supports church workers, pastors and their families, and provides training, Bibles, Christian literature and broadcasts.

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