"In 2011, when I became a Christian, they beat me a lot. I didn't quit [my faith], so they left me alone. But then the number of new believers increased. The new believers went to Bible School to learn to become preachers. They arrested Cha first, beat him and Trang and then arrested me."
Mr Chu, Dien Bien Province, Vietnam
Mr Chu and his friends went to Bible School in 2012 eager to learn about their new faith. They came from several different villages, and most of them had only become Christians in the last 12 months. Several had come to Christ when relatives came to their village to share the gospel with them.
When Chu returned to his village, he heard that the police were waiting for him. He ran away and hid in his rice field. A few days later, police arrested his brother, and beat him severely. Then they arrested his 17-year-old nephew. They beat him around his head and face. Finally, they arrested his other nephew who was only 12 years old. All this was a result of Chu's decision to go to Bible School in the city to learn about his new faith.
Families and police pressure new converts to reconvert
When Chu was finally arrested, he quoted Vietnamese law on religion to the police officers. After that, he says, they did not dare to beat him. The Vietnamese Constitution guarantees citizens the right to freedom of belief and religion, and Article 2 of the new Decree 92 on religion and belief prohibits coercion to follow or leave a religion. However, as Mr Chu's experience shows, the law cannot always protect believers. New converts are especially vulnerable. Police keep a careful eye on the numbers of Christians in their area: when numbers start to grow, they harass and intimidate new Christians to force them to give up their faith.
Pressure to recant does not only come from the authorities. One Vietnamese pastor told us that new Christians' friends and family also try to discourage them from going to church, telling them that Christians follow a "foreign religion" linked to the CIA. Sometimes friends and relatives think they are protecting them by warning them about following a dangerous religion. As a result, one of the main reasons new Christians abandon their faith is pressure from their family.
Bible School students watched by the authorities
All of the Bible School students arrested last September have now been released, but they are still watched closely by the authorities. Despite everything, Chu says the church continues to grow. "My church had 10 families. Now it has 14, around 60 members", he says. His church holds a service every Sunday, with people coming from near and far. When asked about impact of his arrest on his faith, Chu is resolute: "I will never quit my faith!"
Join the Operation 18 campaign!
People like Mr Chu are exactly the kind of people Operation 18 campaigns for. He and his Bible school friends should be free to choose and practice their new religion. They should be free to refuse pressure from others to reconvert – or 'recant' – their beliefs. And they should also be free to enthuse others about their faith. Find our more by signing the Operation 18 petition.