A Vietnamese pastor has been released after four years of imprisonment, advocacy organisation Alliance Defending Freemdom International has revealed.
Pastor A Dao was imprisoned for his faith in 2016 after attending the Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference.
The leader of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ had presented a talk at the conference, in which he spoke on the difficulties his church was facing at the hands of the state.
Following this, Vietnamese authorities sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment for allegedly ‘helping individuals to escape abroad illegally’.
ADF International advocated for and supported the case of Pastor A Dao. Kelsey Zorzi, director of advocacy for global religious freedom at the international organisation, said, ‘No one should be persecuted because of their faith.
‘We welcome the release of Pastor A Dao after years of imprisonment. He was held in poor conditions and even tortured. Pastor A Dao showed immense strength to persevere through his imprisonment and stand strongly for religious freedom in Vietnam.’
She added, ‘The Vietnamese government must now take the additional steps of releasing all religious prisoners of conscience and ceasing altogether its persecution of religious minorities, including Montagnard and Hmong Christian communities.’
Pastor A Dao had become the leader of the church after its previous leader, Pastor A Ga, was also imprisoned for his faith.
Like many Montagnard and Hmong churches in Vietnam, the church was unregistered, which raises suspicion among authorities. Christians in these ethnic groups have been persecuted in the communist country since the 1960s.
In Vietnam, unregistered churches and religious organisations are subject to harassment, arrest, and destruction. These churches often refuse to register to maintain their religious independence and autonomy, as Vietnam exercises a high degree of control over registered churches and restricts their beliefs and practices.
According to ADF International, the authorities tortured Pastor A Dao after he refused to admit to the charges against him. They interrogated members of his church and told them to cease all contact with ‘foreign reactionaries’.
US congressman Glenn Grothman and Commissioner James W. Carr of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom had advocated for his release.
Congressman Grothman said, ‘I hope 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.’