An ethnic Hmong catechist from Phinh Ho Parish in Vietnam’s Yen Bai province has been kept in jail for spreading the Catholic faith among villagers, said a report by the Aid to the Church in Need.
John Sung Bla Giong, who has been conducting catechism courses for local villagers, and his four children were accused of drug trafficking and their relatives were not informed about their whereabouts and trials.
The octogenarian father of 12 is currently serving a 29-year sentence, said his daughter, Therese Sung Thi Hong, in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need.
Sung Thi Hong’s three siblings and one brother-in-law, who also serve as catechists and lay leaders, were also sentenced to up to four years in jail on drug-related offenses. Three of them have already been freed.
Giong’s parish, founded by French missionaries in the early 20th century, is home to 2,700 Hmong faithful from villages in two districts of Tram Tau and Van Chan.
The parish had no resident priests from 1952, when the last foreign missionary was expelled by the communists, until 2013, when a priest was sent to resume religious activities.
During the period when there was no priest, Giong conducted catechism courses.
“During the hard times without priests, many Hmong villagers from other places came to learn the Scriptures, catechism hymns and prayers in Hmong language at our home,” said his daughter.
“My father, whose parents were baptized by foreign missionaries, taught [the villagers] in the evening to steer clear of government officials’ oversight,” she said.
“Public security officers and authorities did not arrest my father for his work until 2011, when they broke into our house, arrested him, and charged him with drug dealing,” said the daughter.
“As evidence, they produced a packet as big as a brick containing heroin. We protested and one of the officials shoved me down on the ground, causing me to nearly suffer a miscarriage of my second child,” said Sung Thi Hong.
“We believed that my father was brought in on a false charge since a local man called Ton many times had asked my father to buy heroin for him and promised to give money, but my father refused. We saw Ton holding the packet earlier that day,” she said in the interview.
“For years, we did not know where my father was detained or when he was tried. Later we had to bribe local authorities to be told that he is held in Yen Lap Camp in Phu Tho province, 130 miles away from home.”
When the family visited Giong, he said he had been sentenced to 29 years in jail.
“At first, he plead not guilty, and he said he would appeal to the higher court, but he was so badly tortured that he gave up his appeal. Consequently, he has gone blind and he suffered a massive heart attack,” said the daughter.
Giong has been hospitalized a few times.
“Last year, I looked after him for four days in a hospital. He was nothing but skin and bone. He said his cellmates take away all his food that we send him as he is blind,” said Sung Thi Hong.
She said prison officials promised to release Giong in three years. “We do not know if he will still be alive at that time,” she added.
“We are greatly concerned about his poor health as he is 82 years old. We love him so much and have no choice but to pray for him to be safe and peaceful until he is freed. My mother, 80, who is in poor health, often cries when thinking of him,” said the daughter.