Vietnamese pastor sentenced to prisonBy Mennonite World Conference
A former independent Mennonite pastor in Vietnam was sentenced to 11 years in prison on March 26 after being convicted of “undermining national solidarity” by the Gia Lai provincial People’s Court in Pleiku.
Nguyen Cong Chinh, also known as Nguyen Thanh Long, 43, has long been harassed by the security police in the central highlands of Vietnam.
(The April 2 MWR carried a brief report of Chinh’s sentencing based on an Associated Press report.)
Chinh was arrested April 28, 2011, and detained until trial.
According to the Saigon Giai Phong (Liberation) newspaper, Chinh confessed to the crime of propaganda against the state, proclaiming himself “pastor in charge of the highlands Mennonite Protestants,” and “engaging in tactics to entice ethnic minorities into wrongdoing.” The official Vietnamese News Agency reported he continued even though he was repeatedly warned.
His sentence will be reviewed by a higher court within a few weeks.
Although religious groups have been granted greater freedom in recent years, the government has implemented stricter policies among the ethnic minorities it fears might threaten political solidarity. During the past decade, many evangelical Christian congregations among the ethnic minorities have been granted full legal status by the government.
In July 2003, Chinh attended a Mennonite conference in Ho Chi Minh City along with Christians from the Jarai ethnic minority.
When the Mennonite church divided into two groups in late 2004, Chinh related closely with the Vietnam Evangelical Mennonite Church, then under the leadership of Nguyen Hong Quang. When Chinh built an unauthorized place of meeting for his church in Kon Tum, it was soon destroyed by authorities.
Over the next few years, Chinh attempted to bring Christians from several ethnic minorities into a broad fellowship. When disciplined by the church in 2008 for inappropriate conduct and stripped of his leadership role, Chinh resigned from the Mennonite church and reported he was leader of the United Montagnard Christian Church.
Chinh has been frequently harassed, beaten and detained by security police, and regularly reported this harassment to the press. He was detained for a few months in 2009. Upon release, he reported he was leading an independent Mennonite fellowship.
China has become affiliated with the Lutheran Church Fellowship in Vietnam, which condemned the “unjust trial” and heavy prison sentence, declaring he committed no crime.
Chinh is married with young children.
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