Vietnam: 15 Hmong Religious Believers Sentenced to total 38 years in prison after Police Raid on funeral

This picture taken on December 7, 2013 shows an young Hmong ethnic mother (no name available) with her 3-year daughter selling souvenir items to visitors at the church square in the popular tourist district of Sapa, northern mountainous province of Lao Cai. Women from local ethnic minority groups living in the region are used to get married when they are only 14 or 15 years olds. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH NAM

Vietnamese authorities sentenced 15 ethnic Hmong followers from the Duong Van Minh (DVM) religious community to prison sentences of up to four years, in two separate closed-door trials between 18 and 24 May.

They were convicted on charges of “resisting officers on duty” under Article 330 of the Penal Code and “violating regulations on safety in crowded areas” under Article 295.

The sentences relate to an incident which took place in December 2021 in Tuyen Quang province when police arrested dozens of people as they attempted to attend the funeral of Duong Van Minh, the ethnic Hmong founder of a religious community not recognized by the Vietnamese government.

On the day of the funeral, hundreds of police, state agents in plainclothes, and persons in medical protective suits, some armed with shields and batons, disrupted the funeral, claiming they were there to force people to take COVID-19 tests. At least 36 people were beaten and arrested on 12 December 2021, while others were arrested later when they went to protest the police action. In total, at least 56 people were arrested, according to a source familiar with the case.

According to Voice of America [in Vietnamese], relatives said that the authorities refused access to lawyers engaged by the victims’ families. Many of the relatives of those who have been sentenced were reportedly not informed of the trial date and were only allowed to listen to proceedings through loudspeakers outside the courtroom.

As previously reported by CSW, followers of Duong Van Minh have suffered years of harassment and abuse by the Vietnamese authorities. For example, in January 2017 authorities destroyed funeral sheds belonging to the group and arrested and tortured seven people for two days, later declaring the funeral sheds to be illegal.

In its 2022 Annual Report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that authorities continued to persecute Duong Van Minh and other independent religious communities in 2021.

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “This is an extremely disappointing and unjust outcome. In this case the authorities not only violently disrupted a funeral, but even arrested and sentenced mourners who tried to protest this action. CSW calls on the Vietnamese authorities to cease all abuses against the followers of Duong Van Minh, against Montagnard Christians, and all other religion or belief communities in the country. Additionally, we are concerned that the defendants do not appear to have been able to meet with legal counsel of their choosing. This is in line with other reports that indicate that access to justice is frequently blocked in rights-related cases in Vietnam, something already raised by UN member states and UN bodies. We call on the Vietnamese government to ensure access to justice for all, and to release all those detained in connection with peacefully exercising their rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.”

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