Vietnamese Authorities Interrogate Pastor’s Wife Over Meeting With U.S. Diplomats

Local police in Vietnam subjected the wife of an imprisoned Mennonite pastor to an intense interrogation about a meeting she had two months ago with a U.S. religious freedom delegation that visited the Southeast Asian nation.

Tran Thi Hong, wife of pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, told RFA's Vietnamese Service that she received a request from local authorities where she lives in Gia Lai province in Vietnam's Central Highlands at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, instructing her to come to their offices in 30 minutes to "work with them"- a euphemism for an interrogation.

Her husband, a prominent activist and pastor of a banned church, is serving an 11-year prison sentence in southeastern Vietnam's Binh Duong province for "undermining unity" by maintaining ties with dissident groups and distributing material deemed to have "slandered" government authorities.

Hong, who suffered injuries from beatings by authorities on April 14 following the March 30 meeting with members of the U.S. delegation, responded that she could not meet with them because she had yet to recover from the earlier abuse.

"About an hour later, they told some members of the commune's Women's Union to go to my house and force me to come there," she said.

The Vietnam Women's Union (VWU) is a mass organization with provincial, district and communal offices that implement policies of the communist government and programs for women and children.

"I was alone and could not resist them, so I went," Hong said.

Ten people, including provincial police, city police, and members of the government-backed Vietnamese Fatherland Front, Women's Union and the commune's People's Committee, took turns questioning her until 7:30 p.m., she said.

"I was very tired during the talk," she said. "They checked my blood pressure and saw that I was tired. They interrogated me about my meeting with the U.S. delegation on religious freedom on March 30. They told me the meeting was a violation of Vietnamese law."

Hong told the authorities that the meeting did not violate any domestic laws, and that she and one of her children had been stopped, harassed and robbed while they were on their way to meet the American diplomats.

"I told them about the meeting with the U.S. delegation and questioned them about whether there is anything wrong with that?" she said.

"I answered some questions and ignored others," Hong said.

Religious freedom delegation

David Saperstein, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, led the U.S. diplomatic delegation that examined the state of religious freedom in Vietnam.

Four diplomats visited Hong at her home in at her private residence in Hoa Lu commune of the city of Pleiku in Gai Lai province.

Local police, who prevented her from going to a hotel for the meeting, escorted her back home and remained in the vicinity until delegation staff members arrived, Saperstein told RFA in an interview on April 5.

On April 14, local authorities forced Hong to go to the Hoa Lu commune office where they asked her about the meeting. It was there that they severely beat her, later depositing Hong outside her home where her neighbors found her, she said.

Vietnam's constitution guarantees freedom of belief and religion, but religious activity is closely monitored and remains under state control. Authorities routinely harass pastors and members of churches that have not registered with officials-a measure taken to manage and control religion.

Because of her husband's incarceration, Hong and her four children have suffered harassment and beatings by authorities at other times in the past, she said.

Police monitor her activities, keep constant watch over her house, and have hurled stones at it, she said.

"I told them very clearly yesterday that I have been deprived of my human rights," Hong said. "I have been beaten and humiliated so many times that I have no energy to work. I demanded an immediate end to this situation."

Hong's revelations of fresh mistreatment at the hands of authorities come as senior U.S. diplomats are visiting Hanoi to prepare for a trip there by President Barack Obama later this month.

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