Police in Vietnam’s Central Highlands set fire to the store room of a Cao Dai priest’s coffee plantation this week, angered that he had escaped their surveillance in order to meet with U.S. diplomats in Saigon, the priest said on Friday.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Hua Phi—head of the Cao Dai Church in Lam Dong province’s Duc Trong district—said that he discovered the damage after he returned from his meeting in Saigon, also called Ho Chi Minh City.
“I visited my coffee plantation, but when I entered the storage area, I saw the door had been broken in and all three rooms set ablaze. All the equipment there was damaged,” he said.
District police had come to ask about him while he was away, and learned that he had gone to Saigon, Hua Phi said.
“Even though they were supposed to watch me night and day, I was still able to get out, and they were so angry that they burned all my tools,” he said.
The arson attack followed an assault by police on June 22, when uniformed and plainclothes officers burst in Hua Phi’s home, covered his head with clothes, and beat him unconscious, the Vietnamese rights group Defend the Defenders said in a June 23 report.
Family members said that three hours before the attack, two police officers had arrived to deliver a summons requiring him to report to authorities because of an administrative fine imposed on him for his activities, Defend the Defenders said.
'I refused to go'
In January, Hua Phi had ignored similar calls to meet with police, he told RFA in an earlier report.
“The Communist Party has established an official branch [of the Cao Dai faith] in order to control us, the unofficial one,” Hua Phi said.
“From Jan. 12 to Jan. 28, I received a total of seven summonses from the police requiring me to meet with them related to my having ‘offended the nation,” Hua Phi said.
“But I refused to go, because the charges are untrue.”
On Jan. 29, police arrived in a taxi to take him to their station, where they accused him of having communicated with international media and foreign delegations, Hua Phi told RFA.
“There were eight provincial police officers there, along with four district police officers, and some communal police officers. In the end they put me under so much pressure that I fainted and they had to call a cab to take me home,” he said.
Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Cao Dai faith, which combines elements of many religions, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting groups who do not follow the state-sanctioned branches.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.