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dpa : European Parliament ‘alarmed’ at Vietnam dissident crackdown

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HANOI, May 16, 2003 (dpa) – The European Parliament has passed a resolution expressing alarm at Vietnam’s arrest of dissidents and a crackdown on non-approved religions, a day after a United States commission condemned Hanoi for its record on religious rights.

The resolution, passed Thursday, calls on Hanoi to release “prisoners of conscience” including Buddhist monks Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do and dissident Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly.

It also calls for an end to persecution of Montagnard Christians in the country’s central highlands region.

Vietnam’s communist government did not immediately react to reports of the resolution Friday, but this week accused the U.S. Religious Freedom Committee of “slander” for a report to the government that said religious freedoms are deteriorating.

“This report gives incorrect remarks that are based on fabricated information and slander about religious freedom in Vietnam,” government spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said in a statement.

Vietnam denies that it has any political prisoners and says that outspoken priest Nguyen Van Ly was jailed for 15 years for undermining national security.

Thich Quang Do, a top leader in the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, is under administrative detention for propagandizing against the government, which is a crime under Article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code.

The government denies that the UBCV’s patriarch, 86-year-od Thich Huyen Quang, is under any kind of house arrest and recently televised a meeting between Quang and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai.

The government also sponsored this week a tightly-controlled press tour of the troubled central highlands, where thousands of mostly Christian ethnic minorities rioted in 2001.

Since then, human rights groups have accused Vietnam of burning unauthorized Christian churches and forcing hill tribe people to disavow their faith. Hanoi denies the reports.

Vietnam’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but only churches that allow government oversight are deemed legal. The Unified Buddhists and the mostly evangelical Protestant Christian Churches reject government control. dpa kj blg

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