Vietnam sentences ethnic minority man to 4½ years for religious activities

Nay Y Blang, who held church meetings in his home, was accused of trying to form a separate state.


RFA | 2024.01.26

Vietnam on Friday sentenced religious freedom activist Nay Y Blang to four years and six months in prison for crimes he is said to have committed while holding religious meetings in his home, state media reported.

Blang, 48, is a member of the Ede ethnic group from the country’s Central Highlands. 

He was accused of using these 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,” and was convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms,” the Tuoi Tre Online newspaper reported.

No defense lawyer was present at his trial, family members said. In protest, Blang's relatives boycotted the trial.

Blang admitted and clearly declared his crime, asking the jury to consider reducing the penalty so he can return to his family soon and reintegrate into the community and become a good citizen who is useful to society, Tuoi Tre reported.

The report said that from the end of 2019 to 2022, Blang used his private home in the eastern coastal province of Phu Yen, to gather for meetings, pray and have online fellowship with some key figures of the  Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, an independent religious group founded that is considered a reactionary organization by the Vietnamese government.

He was additionally 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.” He was arrested on May 18, 2023.

Unapproved group

Supporters said Blang was being punished for his association with the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, which is not recognized and approved by the Vietnamese government.

North Carolina-based Pastor Aga, who founded the organization, told RFA Vietnamese  that even though the family had signed a contract with lawyer Ha Huy Son and had been granted a defense certificate by the investigation agency of Phu Yen province, no lawyer was there to defend Blang.

Aga accused Phu Yen province police of forcing Blang's family to sign a paper denying their acquaintance and not inviting the lawyer to defend him.

“This is unacceptable. If lawyer Ha Huy Son had been present …, it would have clearly been fair and transparent trial to see if Mr. Blang is guilty or not,” said Aga. “But in reality, only people from the government were present, meaning the government can give Blang any sentence they want. Why were there no lawyers to defend or argue about legal issues?”

Son, the lawyer, confirmed to RFA that his contract to defend Blang was canceled. However, he refused to provide a specific reason.

RFA contacted the Security Investigation Agency of the Phu Yen provincial police to ask about the incident, but the officer on duty refused to answer questions over the phone and hung up.

Aga denied all of Blang’s charges.

“Blang has told the truth with evidence, from invitations to summons, video images from Phu Yen province police to suppression of harassment, arrests, confiscation of motorbikes, and fines. There is evidence, it is not slandering the government or slandering the police of Phu Yen province.”

No political agenda

Aga said that the group he founded is purely religious, "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.”

Blang and many followers of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ have been continuously harassed in recent years.

In August 2022, Blang met with a diplomat from the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City. Afterwards, he and his family were harassed by local authorities, asking for information about the meeting.

A month later, he was invited to meet with a religious delegation from the U.S. State Department. However, he could not go to the meeting because he was detained by security agents at a bus station.

Friday’s verdict was the second time Blang has been sentenced to prison. In 2005, he was sentenced to 5 years and 6 months in prison for "undermining the unity policy."

It was the third time he has been legally punished for his activities.

In 2010, the same year he was released from his first prison sentence, Blang was sent to an Educational Facility for 24 months 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 organizations and individuals.”

Translated by Hahn Seide. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.




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