Vietnam: Wife of detained pastor 'beaten and tortured' by local authorities

The Vietnamese government must investigate allegations that a Christian human rights campaigner has been tortured by local authorities, campaigners have said.

A joint statement by more than 30 faith-based organisations, human rights NGOs and individuals, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Amnesty International and Vietnam's Association for Promotion of Freedom of Religions and Beliefs, urged immediate action.

Christians make up about 8 per cent of Vietnam's 89 million population.Reuters

Tan Thi Hong, a member of the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, says officials in Gia Lai province used violence to block her from attending a meeting with the US ambassador at large on international religious freedom, David Saperstein, on March 30.

She alleges she was beaten and forced to return home. The meeting later took place there, under the supervision of local authorities. Saperstein confirmed that Hong had been blocked from entering the hotel where the meeting was scheduled to take place.

Two weeks later, on April 14, Hong says she was abducted from her home and beaten and interrogated for three hours by "plainclothes agents".

She says she was pinned down while being repeatedly kicked, and officers tried to extract information about her meeting with Saperstein. She sustained significant injuries to her head, knees, legs, hands and feet.

Hong is married to pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, who is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2012 of "undermining national unity". He had advocated for religious freedom and democracy in Vietnam.

The joint statement condemned Hong's treatment.

"We condemn what appears to have been reliably established as the torture of Mrs Hong and call on the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to initiate a prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigation into the allegations of torture, prosecute any identified perpetrator, and provide Mrs Hong with proper medical care," it said.

The statement also brands Pastor Nguyen's imprisonment "unjust".

"He was arbitrarily detained and hailed for simply and peacefully practising his faith and exercising his right to freedom of religion and belief. His peaceful activities in criticizing government policies cannot justify his continuous imprisonment and the constant harassment of his family.

"We respectfully ask that your government immediately and unconditionally free Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and show respect for international human rights law and standards."

Chief executive of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, said: "We fully support this statement calling on Vietnam's government to investigate allegations of torture of Tran Thi Hong. CSW continues to receive reports of harassment, intimidation and violence against religious communities not registered with the authorities; we further note various violations against bloggers, religious leaders, lawyers and activists seeking to promote human rights in Vietnam.

"We call on the government to investigate these deeply concerning reports of violence against Tran Thi Hong, and to release Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and other prisoners detained for defending the freedom of religion or belief and other human rights".

Vietnam's constitution guarantees freedom of religion in principle, but, like China, the Communist government tightly controls independent religious practice. According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, it represses "individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority", including independent Buddhists, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Christians.

Of the 93.4 million Vietnamese population more than half identifies with Buddhism. Roman Catholics make up 7 per cent, Cao Dai between 2.5 and 4 per cent; Hoa Hao, 1.5 to 3 per cent; and Protestants, 1 to 2 per cent.