Pastor A Dao was arrested in 2016 while on his way to visit some members of his church, having just attended a religious freedom conference, according to persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
His family was not informed of his arrest and heard nothing from him for five days. Pastor A Dao was then sentenced to five years in prison for illegally smuggling people to Thailand, a charge he has denied. His release comes as a surprise as he was not expected to be given freedom until August 2021.
Meanwhile, Pastor A Dao’s church has experienced ongoing harassment from the authorities.
CSW continues to receive reports of violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) against religious communities in Vietnam, including Buddhists, Catholics, Cao Daists, Hoa Hao Buddhists and Protestants.
Vietnam only introduced a Law on Belief and Religion in 2018. It requires religious groups to register for permission for a broad range of activities.
But religious groups that choose not to register for reasons of conscience, or have had their application rejected or ignored, can be subject to various levels of harassment. These can include intimidation, intrusive monitoring and arrest, and in some cases even imprisonment, torture and extra-judicial killing.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said he welcomes the release of Pastor A Dao but urges the Vietnamese authorities to respect the pastor´s freedom.
“We call on the authorities to ensure that Pastor A Dao is able to enjoy his freedom without fear of further harassment or violations against himself, his church, or his loved ones.”
He went on to say that international efforts must ensure that human rights in Vietnam continue to develop.
“We also continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, including Nguyen Bac Truyen and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton. The international community must ensure that any limited positive developments do not obscure continued and serious human rights concerns in Vietnam, in particular as the EU, UK and US seek to build closer relationships with the country.”