Vietnam officials beat pastor and bulldoze Bible school

A Protestant pastor and human rights activist in Vietnam was beaten unconscious on Tuesday morning by Ho Chi Minh City officials.

His Bible school, located in the city's District 2, was also bulldozed, according to Release International, which serves the persecuted church around the world.

About 500 police, soldiers and fire officers showed up at the school with bulldozers at 0700hrs local time and began demolishing the property. Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, who leads the Mennonite Church, meanwhile, was beaten with batons until he fainted.

Currently, Quang and five members of his congregation are being held at an undisclosed location. They were detained for allegedly "resisting arrest" six years ago, as reported by Release International.

In 2004, the human rights activist was arrested and charged with "interfering with officials carrying out their duties". The arrest took place months after he had called for the release of Christians who were imprisoned for distributing Christian literature in Ho Chi Minh City. The police raided his house and confiscated all his money and files detailing human rights violations by the government.

His house, which served as the head office of the Mennonite Church, was also partially destroyed by some 200 officials while he was in prison. He was released in 2005.

Release International reported that the attack on Tuesday "appeared carefully planned and coordinated."

It came after several critical reports about Quang surfaced in a government-owned newspaper in September. Additionally, in the months leading up to the attack, leaders and students linked with Quang have been pressured by officials to sever ties with the Mennonite church.

Quang has been the subject of arrest and persecution over the past decade. Though Vietnam's constitution provides for freedom of worship, the Communist government continues to restrict organized activities of many religious groups.

Only government-controlled religious organizations are allowed. The Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the smaller Evangelical Church of Vietnam North are two of the largest officially recognized Protestant churches. The Vietnam Mennonite Church was among a number of additional church bodies that were officially recognized in recent years.

The U.S. State Department acknowledged in its 2010 Religious Freedom report that there have been improvements in the respect for religious freedom. Harassment by officials of unrecognized house churches that belong to denominations not associated with the SECV or ECVN declined, the report stated, and congregations have been able to conduct religious services and activities without incident.

Despite some improvement, significant problems remained, the report noted, including occasional harassment and excessive use of force by local government officials against religious groups in some locations, and delays in approving registrations of Protestant congregations.

Quang has been serving as general secretary of the Vietnam Mennonite Church since 2003. Though he is also a lawyer, he has been unable to practice law because he is not a member of the Communist Party.

Estimates of the number of Protestants in Vietnam range from government figures of one million to claims by churches of over two million.