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On March 17th, a Vietnamese church leader reportedly died in police custody after being severely beaten and possibly electrocuted. Vam Ngaij Vaj was an elder at a church affiliated with the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South), a legally recognized religious denomination, and a member of the Hmong ethnic group from the Ðãk Glong district in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Vam was detained for "destroying the forest" while clearing brush from his field with his wife. The police claim he died after accidently putting his hand into an electric socket. However, photographs taken soon after his death reveal severe bruising on his back and neck, leading witnesses to conclude he was beaten violently before his death. Members of Vam's community believe the official charge of "destroying the forest" was merely an excuse to terrorize local Hmong Christians.

Many of these believers now living in the Central Highlands are originally from the northwest of the country, where Christian communities are subject to arbitrary arrest, beatings by police, forced or coerced eviction, and fines for converting to Christianity. Over the past two decades, they have fled the north in large numbers as a result of religious persecution, hoping they would be able to practice their faith freely further south. Last month, CSW received reports of Hmong Christians being subjected to various forms of harassment and intimidation by the authorities (and local thugs working with them), including destruction of property, violent physical assault and confiscation of land. To learn more, go to the Vietnam Country Report.

May great comfort rest upon Vam's surviving family and community, knowing that he is no longer suffering but rather enjoying the glorious presence of our Lord whom he so willingly and faithfully served. Pray that those representing every level of Vietnam's government would be mindful of the great value of human life, holding those responsible for Vam's torture and consequential death accountable. As a result of this tragedy, may the government be more vigilant to ensure the rights for religious freedom are upheld, thus preventing further violations against Hmong Christians and other believers.