A pastor and five followers from a banned Mennonite church in Ho Chi Minh City were sentenced up to three years in prison Friday for obstructing justice, a court official said.
The Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang was given three years on charges of “obstructing people carrying out official duties” at the end of the half-day trial at the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Five others were also sentenced from nine months to two years on the same charges. No other details were available.
Quang, who is also a lawyer, served as general secretary of the Mennonite Church in Vietnam, which is banned by the communist government. He was arrested in June after calling for the release of four other detained church members, an international human rights group had said. It was unclear whether those were the same followers who stood trial with him.
Vietnamese officials have maintained Quang was arrested after breaking the law, not for any religious reasons.
Vietnam recognizes only a handful of state-sponsored religions and has clashed many times with Buddhist and Christian groups that have refused to merge. The government maintains that no one is persecuted for their beliefs and that freedom of religion is guaranteed to all.
In September, the U.S. State Department listed Vietnam as a “country of particular concern,” placing it among the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. The designation could lead to economic sanctions if the situation is not improved.