VIETNAM: Christian jailed for holding prayer meetings in his home

Nay Y BlangVietnamese religious freedom activist Nay Y Blang (48) has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison for crimes he was alleged to have committed while holding prayer meetings in his home.

He was accused of using the meetings to “gather forces, divide the national unity bloc, incite secession, self-rule, and establish a separate state for ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands”. He was also accused of “providing false information about freedom of religious belief, slander, distorting religious policies, and violating the interests of the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

On 26 January the People’s Court of Phu Yen province convicted Mr Blang of “abusing democratic freedoms and belief freedoms to entice and incite others to infringe upon the interests of the State, legitimate rights and interests of agencies, organisations, and individuals” and sentenced him to four years and six months in prison. His family boycotted the trial because no defence lawyer was present.

 Mr Blang is a Montagnard from Vietnam’s Central Highlands and is a member of the Ede ethnic group, one of around thirty Montagnard tribal groups. He belongs to the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, which is not recognised or approved by the Vietnamese government; many of its members have suffered ongoing harassment in recent years.

For several years Mr Blang had hosted prayer gatherings his home in the eastern coastal province of Phu Yen and also met online with leaders of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ. He was arrested on 18 May 2023 and supporters said he was being punished for his association with the church.

Pro-government Vietnamese language news outlet Tuoi Tre Online said Mr Blang had admitted his offences and asked the jury to consider “mitigating the punishment so that he could soon return to his family, and reintegrate into the community”.

The founder of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, Pastor Aga, who is now based in North Carolina, said the charges against Mr Blang were all fabricated and that the trial was a farce. He told Radio Free Asia, “The church is not reactionary, not against the state, not intending to establish a separate state. We just want to express our religious beliefs, our own religion, to worship God and follow the religion that suits us, while still following the laws of the Vietnamese government.

Previous convictions

In April 2005 Mr Blang was sentenced to five years and six months in prison for “undermining the unity policy”.

In 2010, the year he was released, he was sent to an “Educational Facility” for two years for “abusing the rights to democratic freedom and freedom of belief to entice and incite others to violate the law, interests of the State, legitimate rights and interests of organisations and individuals”.

In September 2022 he was fined four million Vietnamese Dong (approximately €152) for “abusing democratic freedoms and belief freedoms”.

Read more about Vietnamese Christians in Church in Chains’ Vietnam Country Profile.

(Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Radio Free Asia, UCA News)

Photo: Cong An Nhan Dan, Radio Free Asia