HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)-- Vietnamese security forces beheaded pastors and shot to death "many" other Hmong Christians who gathered to await Jesus Christ's return after a false prophecy by an American preacher, according to a leading advocacy group's leader.
James Jacob Prasch, executive director of Moriel Ministries (MM), said Thursday, July 14, that the massacre was the horrific aftermath of shortwave broadcasts by Harold Camping of California-based Family Radio.
Camping, 89, claimed that Christ would return to Earth to "rapture" his followers to heaven on May 21 as mankind had run out of time.
Following the broadcasts, some 7,000 Hmong Christians attempted to gather "on a mountain praising God" in late April and early May, but instead found "police and military police" who slaughtered "many of them at gunpoint beheading two pastors," Prasch told supporters in an electronic message to supporters obtained by BosNewsLife.
International rights activists had suggested that dozens of Hmong Christians may have been killed, but Prasch suggested the real figure may be higher. "I am told by Hmong pastors that so many were shot dead that they were buried in mass graves bulldozed over," he added. Others were reportedly detained.
Vietnamese officials in Dien Bien province have accused 'sabotage forces' of stoking secessionist demands, and denied reports of a massacre.
A spokeswoman from the Foreign Ministry said 'extremists' had been detained but did not say how many or whether anyone had been killed or injured. Foreign media and diplomats have been banned from visiting the area.
Dien Bien is one of Vietnam's poorest provinces in the remote and mountainous area bordering Laos and China, where there have been widespread reports of a government crackdown on Christian Hmongs.
Across the border in Laos, Laotian and Vietnamese troops killed four Hmong Christian women after confiscating their Bible, a US rights group said in April.
The Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) said the unarmed highland Hmong women were “summarily executed” in northeastern Xieng Khouang province by soldiers from a special 150-member unit of the Lao People’s Army (LPA) led by Vietnamese secret police and military advisers.
The government troops confiscated the group’s only Bible, “brutally and repeatedly raped” at least two of the younger women before shooting them at point blank range with automatic weapons in the head and torso, it added.
Laos and Vietnam have close military ties in the mountainous region.
In Vietnam's Dien Bien province the 170,000 Hmong represent about one-third of its population. The Hmong make up just over 1 per cent of the wider Vietnamese population, but many reportedly earn as little as 100 dollars a year, less than a tenth of the average annual income.
Christians say there is a long history of mistrust between the government and many ethnic hilltribe groups, collectively known as Montagnards, as many of them were allied with the U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.
Prasch said he was outraged that American preacher Camping misused their situation to make false prophecies, giving them false hopes that their promised land was imminent.
"Due to a combination of poverty, ignorance, and persecution these poor Christians don’t understand much so they believed Camping’s shortwave broadcast," added Prasch. "This is a persecuted church who just had no means to know any different. This is why I get angry at those who deceive the Body of Christ and why I warn so much about false teachers and false prophets."
There was no comment from Family Radio. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Eric Leijenaar)