- Pastor A Dao was imprisoned for his faith in 2016, ADF International supported his case for freedom
- Montagnard and Hmong minorities functionally stateless and persecuted in Vietnam
VIETNAM/WASHINGTON DC (5 October 2020) – Vietnam has released Pastor A Dao, leader of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ, after 4 years’ imprisonment. Pastor A Dao was arrested in late 2016 after attending the Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference. At the conference, he presented on the difficulties his church was facing at the hands of the state. Vietnamese authorities sentenced him to 5 years’ imprisonment for allegedly “helping individuals to escape abroad illegally.” ADF International advocated for and supported the case of Pastor A Dao.
“No one should be persecuted because of their faith. We welcome the release of Pastor A Dao after years of imprisonment. He was held in poor conditions and even tortured. Pastor A Dao showed immense strength to persevere through his imprisonment and stand strongly for religious freedom in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government must now take the additional steps of releasing all religious prisoners of conscience and ceasing altogether its persecution of religious minorities, including Montagnard and Hmong Christian communities,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom at ADF International.
Unjust imprisonment and functional statelessness of religious minorities
Pastor A Dao became the leader of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ after its previous leader, Pastor A Ga, was also imprisoned for his faith. Like many Montagnard and Hmong churches in Vietnam, the church was unregistered. In Vietnam, unregistered churches and religious organizations are subject to harassment, arrest, and destruction. These churches often refuse to register in order to maintain their religious independence and autonomy, as Vietnam exercises a high degree of control over registered churches and restricts their beliefs and practices.
The authorities tortured Pastor A Dao after he refused to admit to the charges against him. They interrogated members of his church and told them to cease all contact with “foreign reactionaries.”
Pastor A Dao’s imprisonment took place against a background of religious persecution of Christians by the Vietnamese government. Montagnard and Hmong Christians have been persecuted in Vietnam since the 1960s. The government considers them a threat to “national security” and “national unity,” and they are denied basic citizens’ rights. They are coerced, imprisoned, and tortured in order to force them to renounce their faith and convert to government-controlled denominations. Local authorities deny them “household registration” documents, restricting them from applying for citizenship ID cards, owning property, obtaining legal employment, opening a bank account, or receiving public services, rendering them functionally stateless in their own country. Some flee to uninhabited areas of the country where they live in dangerous and unsanitary conditions while others apply for asylum abroad.
U.S. Congressman Glenn Grothman (R-WI) and Commissioner James W. Carr of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently “adopted” Pastor A Dao and advocated for his release.
Congressman Grothman said, “Congratulations to Pastor Dao on being able to return to his family. I would like to meet him some day. I hope that his release is a sign of Vietnam transitioning from an anti-God totalitarian state to a country in which religion in general and Christianity in particular can be openly practiced. . . . I hope other American Congressmen familiarize themselves with the oppression that religious minorities, which in many parts of the world are Christians, have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Commissioner Carr said, “I am delighted that Pastor A Dao is free, even as I lament the fact that prison robbed him of four years of his life. . . . In addition, USCIRF urges the government to take steps to ensure that local authorities respect A Dao’s freedom and safety should he choose to return to his home village.”
ADF International, together with the Vietnamese advocacy group Boat People SOS and the religious freedom advocacy group Jubilee Campaign, had advocated for Pastor A Dao’s adoption. ADF International also raised Pastor A Dao’s case in a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on 28 May 2020 asking him to raise concerns over the severe violations of religious freedom that Montagnard and Hmong Christians in Vietnam face with the Vietnamese government.