Vietnam jails pastor of banned Mennonite church

March 26, 2012 - 10:56 PM

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A court in central Vietnam sentenced the pastor of an outlawed Mennonite church to 11 years in prison for sowing division between the communist government and its citizens, state-controlled media reported Tuesday.

Nguyen Cong Chinh, 43, was convicted of undermining the government policy of unity at the one-day trial Monday in the central highland province of Gia Lai, the People's Army newspaper said.

Chinh was convicted of authoring and disseminating documents with distorted information that slandered authorities, it said. The paper said he was also convicted of collaborating with "reactionary groups" and inciting ethnic minorities to commit wrongdoing.

Court officials were not available for comment Tuesday.

John Sifton of Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the case is "another stain on Vietnam's religious repression record."

Vietnam's communist government has tight control over society and all churches must get government approval to operate.

"The conviction of Pastor Chinh is yet another demonstration showing how much the government of Vietnam cares about freedom of religion: not at all," said Sifton, the rights group's Asia advocacy director. But he added that Chinh's prosecution "is not going to stop independent religious groups in Vietnam from exercising their beliefs."