Vietnam Frees Jailed Pastor After Pressure From United States

Vietnam, Christian Persecution, Bible
Vietnamese Bible (Photo: Chris Kenning)

A Vietnamese pastor has finally been released from prison after more than four years. The pastor says that he was not only falsely imprisoned but tortured and beaten while in custody.

A Dao, a pastor of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ, was arrested by Vietnamese authorities in August 2016 shortly after returning home from the Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference in Dili, East Timor. Dao said that he had shared at the conference about how his own church was experiencing difficulties and asked the international community for help combating religious persecution in Vietnam.

Following Dao’s arrest, authorities also interrogated members of his church and demanded they cease all contact with overseas “foreign reactionaries,” reported the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

On Apr. 28, 2017, a Vietnamese court tried and sentenced Dao to five years imprisonment at Gia Trung Prison in Gia Lai Province for allegedly “helping individuals to escape abroad illegally” under Article 275 of the country’s penal code. Dao was not expected to be released until Aug. 18, 2021.

While in prison, Dao’s wife, Nguyen Thi Tuoi, was forced to sell their land, move in with relatives and send their two children to live with other family members.

In May, USCIRF Commissioner James W. Carr “adopted” Dao through the USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project, while Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman “adopted” him in August through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project.

Both projects are intended to highlight individuals who have been imprisoned, detained, disappeared or placed under house arrest on account of their religion or beliefs. As part of the projects, officials commit to consistent advocacy on behalf of those adopted under the programs.

Carr and Grothman have spent the last few months advocating for Dao’s release, sharing his story and exposing Vietnam’s human rights and religious liberty violations.

On Sept. 18, USCIRF announced that Dao had been released and was free to reunite to his wife, 16-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter.

“This is a hallmark day for both Pastor A Dao and Vietnam,” said Grothman. “Congratulations to Pastor Dao on being able to return to his family. … 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.

“This also shows the importance of American elected officials speaking out against oppression and promoting the importance of religious freedom throughout the world,” he added. “Religion should not be a tool to oppress any person nor a stain on their character. 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.”

Carr also expressed his happiness over Dao’s release: “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. I hope this release is a sign that the Vietnamese government is serious about improving religious freedom conditions and will release other individuals detained for their religious freedom advocacy, including Nguyen Bac Truyen. 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.”

In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the State Department designate Vietnam a “country of particular concern” (CPC), in part because Vietnamese authorities regularly “arrest and imprison peaceful religious leaders and religious freedom advocates.”