Hmong Catholics, Vietnam 2010 (CC/Flickr/[email protected])

The Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) has expressed “deep concern” over an attack earlier this month on 24 Christians from the Hmong people group, who had recently converted to the Christian faith.

The group had been warned by local leaders to renounce their faith or be forced to leave the village.

The attack, led by the village chief, left four people in hospital with serious injuries.

According to the VCHR, attacks against religious communities have multiplied recently in Vietnam.

“Religious persecution is a growing phenomenon,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. “Vietnam is targeting religious followers whose sole wish is to live their faith in peace. For the authorities, this simple wish is a crime.”

The attack is part of a pattern of growing harassments against ethnic minorities in the northwest and central highlands where conversion to Protestantism is high, the rights group said.

But the Hmong people manage to keep their faith alive despite government restrictions, according to Catholic news agency UCAN, which has released a gallery of photos of Hmong Christians.

The Vietnamese authorities do not allow the Hmong to build chapels, and, in some areas, they are not allowed to hold prayer meetings, according to UCAN.

Vietnam’s rights record has been under examination at the 37th session of the Human Rights Council, currently meeting in Geneva, where the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, told Radio Free Asia that there are serious concerns over Vietnam.

“Vietnam is one of the top-five countries that have received the highest number of communications on violations of religious freedom,” he said. “The fact that Vietnam has attracted such a great deal of attention from mandate holders shows that there are serious concerns in the country.”

“Global studies have placed Vietnam among the 10 states that have a very negative attitude to freedom of religion or belief in the public and private domain,” he added.