Vietnam jails pastor of unregistered church

A court in central Vietnam has sentenced the pastor of an illegal house church to 11 years in jail for "disrupting national unity," state media reported.

At a one-day trial in Gia Lai province, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, 43, admitted he was in charge of a Mennonite Protestant church in the Central Highlands which was not registered with the government, a report in Communist Party newspaper Saigon Giai Phong reported.

Chinh, who was arrested in April, was also convicted of handing out anti-government leaflets and "enticing ethnic minorities to commit wrongdoing," the report said.

In communist Vietnam all churches have to be sanctioned by the state, a system criticized by rights groups.

"The overarching atmosphere for religious freedom in Vietnam is hostile," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. He called the compulsory registration of religious groups and organisations "a deeply bureaucratic process riddled with pitfalls and Catch 22s."Author: Marianne Brown