Help Support H.R.2140 & Stop Persecution in Vietnam

nguyen van dai constant contack
A few weeks ago, we informed you of the arrest and detainment of Nguyen Van Dai.

Latest reports have indicated that Dai’s wife and attorney still have not received any news on his condition nor whereabouts.

On May 10th, 2016, Dai’s wife, Mrs. Vu Minh Khanh, traveled to Washington D.C. from Vietnam to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. In her testimony, she informed the committee about Dai’s experience with Vietnamese authorities, including being a victim of torture and put in an incommunicado state in prison.

Mrs. Khanh also informed the subcommittee of how Dai’s arrest has put mental stress on her. Vietnamese authorities have placed a camera outside her house that records her every move, and forbids her from visiting her husband.

The Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held another hearing on Vietnam on June 22nd. During the hearing, Chairman Smith advocated for Vietnam to be re-designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). Previously, Vietnam had been designated as a CPC from 2004 until 2006. During the hearing, Chairman Smith remarked, “[USCIRF] has made a very strong and consistent appeal to the IRF office to put Vietnam on that CPC category. It had been taken off prematurely during an economic agreement in the false hope that there would be deliverables that never happened.”

Jubilee supports Chairman Smith’s proposed legislation H.R. 2140 Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2015. The bill proposes that Vietnam should not receive non-humanitarian assistance from the United States if human rights and religious freedom does not improve. It also suggests that Congress re-designate Vietnam as a CPC. Since its introduction, the bill has passed in the House four times, but continues to fail once it reaches the Senate. Please contact your local Representative and state Senator and vocalize your support of the bill!

Jubilee also continues to mail postcards of encouragement to Dai’s wife, Mrs. Khanh. If you would like to send her a postcard, please email jubilee@jubileecampaign.org and we will mail you postcards to send her.

Pakistan Court Acquits Five Blasphemy Cases

pakistan christian
On June 20th, the cases of five Pakistani Christians accused of blasphemy were acquitted by an Anti-Terrorism Court in Gujranwala. Considering most blasphemy cases in Pakistan do not see much movement or success, these cases are truly an act of God.

In 2015, a Christian pastor and four others were originally arrested under terrorism laws for using the Urdu word “rasool”, which means apostle, to describe a deceased pastor on posters that were put up across the town of Gujrat. The posters were made in order to bring attention to an ordination ceremony occurring at the Biblical Church of God on Sunday August 16th, 2015. The word “rasool” was used in the poster to describe pastor Fazal Masih, who had established the Biblical Church of God, which supports Christians in Pakistan. Issues arose with these posters because in Pakistan the word is used only for Islamic prophets, specifically Prophet Muhammad. Thus, a group of Muslims found this poster to be offensive because Fazal Masih was a member of the Christian religion.

A blasphemy case was made against the involved Christians under the premise of various anti-terrorism laws. Under Anti-Terrorism Act 8/9 they were found guilty of displaying and publishing written material which was threatening, abusive, and insulting. Additionally, under Anti-Terrorism Act 11-W they were found instigating sectarian hatred and hurting religious sentiments. They were also found to be violating one of the subsections of the infamous blasphemy law, Section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which found them guilty of deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.

After the original arrests, the First Information Report (FIR) written by the police noted that a total of 16 people were nominated for participating in said blasphemous acts, but only 7 faced court trials. One of the organizations in Pakistan supported by Jubilee Campaign to assist Christian victims and their families, the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance & Settlement (CLAAS) took up the case in August of 2015 and now five of the men, Shafwat Gill, Latif Masih, Unitan Fazal Gill, Moshin Shoukat, and Zulifiqar were each acquitted. Another two, Aftab Gill and Hajij bin Yousaf, have been sentenced to imprisonment for six years.

Jubilee Campaign celebrates the acquittal of these five men and pray for their safety in Pakistan. Please join us in praying for the additional two to be acquitted, and for blasphemy laws to be repealed in Pakistan. Thank you for your financial support to our Pakistan Victims Family fund which CLAAS administers to provide aid to the families of Christian victims of false accusations such as these. Please continue to give.

Praying for India’s Christians while Modi addresses Congress

prayer vigil
As Indian Prime Minister Modi addressed the US Congress on June 8, Jubilee Campaign took part in one of the most effective activities to fight against injustice: prayer. Executive Director Ann Buwalda and Jubilee Campaign staff participated in a prayer vigil in the capital that was held to bring awareness to the plight of Christians in India and pray on their behalf. Many concerned persons and organizations attended the event.

Ms. Buwalda addressed the participants of the vigil and explained the deterioration of religious freedom that has occurred under Prime Minister Modi’s governance. She specifically noted the growth of Hindu extremism that has taken place in the recent past. Hindu extremists have increasingly threatened Christians. Extremists often force them to stop their Christian activities and even renounce their faith. Organized campaigns called ghar wapsi are held to try and force those who have left the Hindu faith to reconvert to Hinduism. Christians are harassed and abused if they do not comply.

As we previously reported, religious minorities such as Christians in India receive little to no protection to practice their faith. Though federal law holds certain protections for minorities, these laws are often not implemented at the local level. It is well known that local authorities tend to take advantage of the law and discriminate against non-Buddhists.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is led by Prime Minister Modi does not do a good job of promoting tolerance in the country because it advances its adherence to the ideology of “Hinduness.” BJP members are even the ones who lead the ghar wapsi campaigns.

A continuing concern for Chrisitans in India is the passing of “anti-conversion laws.” Modi has allowed for many states in India to pass laws protecting against forced conversions. The issue with these laws is that they have not been used to stop people from being forced back to Hinduism, such as occurs in the ghar wapsi, but instead have many times been used as a mechanism to target the activities of Christians. There have been various reports of Christians who are arrested for sharing their faith, even though they are not forcing anyone to accept it.

Because of the continued persecution that is taking place in India, Jubilee Campaign will be submitting a report to the United Nations this year as part of their Universal Periodic Review, which analyzes the condition of human rights in each country. Our report to the UN will bring attention to the discrimination and persecution Christians have faced under Modi’s rule and give specific recommendations on how the country can improve its human rights record.
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UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea Releases 2nd Report

On June 8th, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea released its second report discussing the human rights situation in Eritrea. The commissioners recommended in the report that the United Nations Security Council refer the situation in Eritrea to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court due to the fact that “Eritrea is not in a position to provide accountability for [its] crimes and violations.”

The 94-page report further details human rights atrocities also recorded in last year’s report, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, and religious persecution.

While from the outside it may appear that Eritreans have religious freedom, it is quite far from the truth. In an attempt to assume complete control of religious activities and teachings, the government only recognizes four religious denominations: Islam, Eritrean Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Lutheranism. Church leaders are often selected by the government, while sermons and activities are regulated. Other faiths and denominations are forced to meet and worship in secret, and if discovered, face severe consequences amounting to persecution.

This year’s report included the testimony of an individual who faced persecution in Eritrea due to their faith:

“I left Eritrea on 20 January 2016 because I was not able to practice my religion freely and I was detained many times for being a member of [a non-recognised religion]. I was detained the last time on 9 March 2014. We were 58 people, including women and children, worshipping together when the military police stormed the premises and arrested us all. They took us to [the local] police prison. They beat us very badly and many of us sustained injuries. When we arrived at this prison we met 50 other Protestants from [a banned church] detained for practicing their faith […] On 29 March 2014, 11 of us refused to renounce our faith, so were transferred to an underground prison. On 27 April 2014, five persons agreed to renounce their faith and were released after signing documents saying that they were now members of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. On 5 May 2015, we were transferred to a military prison […] In all, we were 108 religious prisoners in this prison. I was beaten once there because I refused to renounce my religion. On 12 November 2015, while working in the garden, I managed to escape. Persecution on religious ground has not improved and people are still being arrested for worshipping. I know that many of those arrested have died in their respective prisons due to torture and pneumonia, for which some have been forbidden proper medical treatment. Protestants detained are only released after denouncing their faith and promising to worship in the Eritrean Orthodox Church.”

On Tuesday, June 21st, the Commission presented this year’s report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Jubilee Campaign accredited a team of individual’s not only to attend the HRC session, but to host a side-event that discusses the human rights violations occurring in Eritrea through the stories of victims.

Obama Addresses Vietnam’s Lack of Religious Freedom

president-barack-obama in Hanoi

When there is freedom of religion, it not only allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions, but it allows faith groups to serve their communities through schools and hospitals, and care for the poor and the vulnerable.

-President Obama, Hanoi, Vietnam, 5/24/16

In May, President Obama visited Vietnam in an effort to strengthen US-Vietnamese relations. However, he also used his time in the country to address some of its most lacking human rights, including religious freedom. Prior to the president’s trip, Jubilee Campaign and other human rights organizations heavily urged President Obama to make human rights a prioritized topic in Vietnam. During a public speech in Hanoi, he addressed the value human rights would have for the Vietnamese people.

“The United States does not seek to impose our form of government on Vietnam. The rights I speak of I believe are not American values; I think they’re universal values written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

…But as a friend of Vietnam, allow me to share my view — why I believe nations are more successful when universal rights are upheld.

…When there is freedom of religion, it not only allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions, but it allows faith groups to serve their communities through schools and hospitals, and care for the poor and the vulnerable. And when there is freedom of assembly — when citizens are free to organize in civil society — then countries can better address challenges that government sometimes cannot solve by itself. So it is my view that upholding these rights is not a threat to stability, but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress.”

Three days prior to President Obama’s arrival, Vietnamese authorities released Father Van Ly who was nearing the end of an 8 year sentence. Obama’s visit prompted his release to come earlier than planned. Ly has spent over 20 years in prison and 15 years of house arrest due to his activism. Over the years, Jubilee Campaign has taken part in continuously advocating for his release. In 2002, Jubilee Campaign organized a visit for Lord David Alton and Congressman Joseph Pitts to investigate the human rights situation of Vietnam. Lord Alton reported on the status of Fr. Ly at the time, “Father Van Ly is serving a fifteen-year prison sentence and during a visit to Hanoi with US Congressman, Joseph Pitts (Rep. Pennsylvania) on behalf of the Jubilee Campaign, I raised his case with Le Quang Vinh, head of the Vietnamese Government Committee on Religion.”

It has been a long road for Fr. Ly. We are thrilled for his release, but we know that this may not be the end of the hardships he faces from the Vietnamese government. The government still continues to discriminate against and detain religious members and activists.

Government officials within Vietnam continue to oppress religious minorities and persecute any expressions calling for more freedom of religion or of democratic values. Crackdowns preceded President Obama’s trip. The family of Vietnamese pastor, Nguyen Cong Chinh, were beaten and mistreated by authorities three times between May 11-13. Chinh’s 18-year-old son was arrested when he tried to protect his mother from the beatings. Tran Thi Hong, Chinh’s wife has described the treatment her family has received as “intolerable.” She too fights for human rights as a member of the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights. Her husband has been in jail since 2012 serving an 11-year sentence. His charge stated that he “falsely accuse[d] Vietnam of suppressing religious freedom” and that he participated in “anti-government activities.”

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai is still in prison despite continued pressure put on the Vietnamese government for his release. A Christian who was originally arrested in part for defending persecuted pastors, he was seriously beaten and physically abused during his re-arrest on December 16, 2015. His wife, Vu Minh Khanh, bravely shared her and her husband’s compelling testimony during a US Congressional hearing on May 10. She described the harsh treatment that her husband has received in prison and the denial she’s received from authorities to visit him.

During times like these, it’s important for the body of Christ to encourage one another and stay united in the Lord. If you would like to send Mrs. Khanh a postcard letting her know that you are praying for her and her husband, please email jubilee@jubileecampaign.org and provide us with your name and mailing address. We will then send you a postcard with an encouraging message to sign and send to Mrs. Khanh.