Urgent case about the Christian Church Revival Ekklesia Mission (REM)

A small church located at Alley 415, Nguyen Van Cong Street, Ward 3, Go Vap District (the house of the Pastors Phương Văn Tân and Võ Xuân Loan) was blocked on May 27.

 

By International Youth Movement For Human Rights

To Whom It May Concern

Recently, after the latest outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Saigon, the Vietnamese authorities have used every means possible to direct people’s anger to a Christian Church called Revival Ekklesia Mission (REM) (Hội Thánh Tin Lành Phục Hưng in Vietnamese). This Protestant Church is a small church located at the house of the Pastors Phương Văn Tân and Võ Xuân Loan. Rev Phương Văn Tân is the husband, Rev Võ Xuân Loan is his wife.  Below we have six points to demonstrate the targeted abuse of this minority group.

First, the State newspapers have published news stories to pin the origin of COVID-19 itself on this small Church, and are also manipulating news coverage to blame the Church for the latest Covid-19 surge in Vietnam. The Church has become the government’s scapegoat to bear the anger of the people, while investigative commentators agree the real cause of the surge is most likely to be the large concentration of people who turned out to vote at the National Assembly Election on May 23rd, 2021.

According to the Church, they stopped gathering two weeks before the outbreak. Prior to that, members always wore masks and washed their hands carefully at and before meetings. The Church even donated a lot of masks and alcohol liquid to the neighborhood community and reminded everyone to fight the pandemic.

Second, the police have prosecuted this case with a criminal charge of spreading the disease to the community, as if the church-goers not only carried COVID but spread it intending to cause harm.

In fact, it is the family of Pastors Phuong Van Tan and Vo Xuan Loan that have experienced the greatest harm as they try to recover from COVID, at the same time as having to defend false attacks and anger from the community. The decision to prosecute them under criminal law is a final blow to the family and all the Church members. The associated stress may lower their immunity, and in the worst case, cause them to succumb to the Covid-19 virus. The orchestrated blame-shifting is an inhumane act from the authorities.

Third, after the family was first admitted to the hospital, the authorities separated the family into three different hospitals:

  • Rev Vo Xuan Loan was placed in the Hochiminh City Tropical Hospital at Infection Department D, room 14.
  • Rev Phuong Van Tan, at the Cu Chi field hospital, zone 4, room 2.
  • The Pastor couple’s son Phương Tường Nguyện, is 25 years old and has schizophrenia. He was interred with his father at the Cu Chi field hospital, zone 4, room 2.
  • The couple’s daughter Ms. Phương Tường Vi was interred at zone 4, room 5, Cu Chi field hospital.
  • Rev Vo Xuan Loan’s mother, Mrs. Lê Thi Nà, 87 years old, and Rev Vo Xuan Loan’s little brother, Mr. Võ Hùng Phong, were sent to the Cần Giờ hospital.

Fourth, according to Vietnam Ministry of Health’s guidelines, newspapers are forbidden to cite a Covid-19 patient’s name. In the case of the Church, however, they have made an exception and State newspapers are permitted to violate this rule and clearly cite the names of Rev Phuong Van Tan and Rev Vo Xuan Loan.

Fifth, this Church has been harassed by the authorities for years. Rev Phuong Van Tan and Rev Vo Xuan Loan were jailed many times in the past for preaching evangelical Protestantism. Thanks to the international community’s intervention, the harassment has lessened in recent years but now they may be jailed again. If you want independent validation that Vietnamese authorizes target small home-based churches, the matter is referenced in Australia’s 2019 DFAT report on Vietnam.

Sixth, the Ministry of Home Affairs has suggested withdrawing the Church’s license, which will mean they have no opportunity to meet at all. This is an unacceptable pretext to oppress religious freedom in Vietnam. Unfortunately, all the Church members have caught Covid-19 which has for the time being taken away their health. They now risk having their right to practice their religion taken away too.

We know that the intervention of the international community helps to stop oppression like this. For example, in this case, we were updated that Rev Vo Xuan Loan was moved from Hochiminh City Tropical Hospital to Cu Chi field hospital, which as described above, is where her husband, daughter, and son are interred. Without the help of concerned Foreign Consulates and other vocal advocates, this would not have happened.

However, Rev Vo Xuan Loan is still not permitted to see her husband, son or daughter. Furthermore, Rev Vo Xuan Loan’s elderly mother and younger brother still remain far away at Can Gio hospital.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this family has been harassed by the Vietnamese authorities, and is most likely not the last, as they have always been considered a thorn by the state.

We sincerely ask you to investigate the situation of Pastors Rev Phương Văn Tân and Rev Võ Xuân Loan, as well as the many other religious minorities in Vietnam who have been targets of intimidation and persecution by the Vietnamese authorities. Their lives and beliefs are at stake.

Thank you for your consideration.

International Youth Movement For Human Rights

11 June 2021

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