Despite decrees and ordinances outlawing forced recantations of religion, Hmong Catholics are still pressured to cease their religion activities.

Hanoi - Months immediately preceding the visit from President George W. Bush, and the WTO accession, Vietnam issued several decrees and ordinances that outlawed forced renunciations of faith, and relaxed restrictions on religious freedom. However, things seem to return back to previous status, at least with Hmong Catholics in Son La province.

Local Catholics in Son La report that many Hmong Catholics have been threatened to force them to cease religion activities. Those who refused to do so were detained, interrogated, arrested, imprisoned, beat, and harassed. In some cases, their rice fields were set on fire and land confiscated. Last year, soon after the meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, an entire of Catholic village fled into a jungle to avoid persecutions. They traveled South far to Thanh Hoa province.

Local authorities responded by setting up border guard stations within ethnic villages to prevent further runaways. There have been reports in which security officials pressured Hmong Catholics to sign pledges agreeing to abandon “Christianity and politics”, and to construct traditional animistic altars in their homes. These practices were outlawed in a February 2005 decree. However, so far, no security officials have been punished for these actions.

The local government of Son La has long connected Hmong Christianity with the “receive the king” tradition of Hmong culture. This tradition was interpreted as a harbinger of political secession, a serious national security threat.

In June 2006, the Son La’s Committee of Population Propaganda issued a document urging officials to take active measures to “resolutely subdue” the growth of Christianity because “Son La people have no ‘genuine need’ for religion”, “Christians spend so much time for worship, and on Sunday, they rest from work”. This “undermines the revolution”.

The document brazenly contradicts to decrees and ordinances from Vietnam Prime Minister in 2005 and 2006. “I am not quite sure if the Prime Minister is making a mockery of his own words,” said a Catholic teacher who spoke on anonymous condition, “or he has no authority to instruct local authorities strictly and completely to adhere to the new legislation”.