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UBCV Spokesman Vo Van Ai welcomes new report by US Commission on International Religious Freedom on abuses of religious freedom in Vietnam

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Paris, 1st September 2008 (International Buddhist Information Bureau) – Mr. Vo Van Ai, Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) and International Spokesman of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), warmly welcomed the “Vietnam Policy Focus” issued by the US International Commission on International Religious Freedom. This new report details of the USCIRF’s visit to Vietnam in October 2007, when they met with top government officials as well as religious dissidents from all faiths. The report’s findings reveal “severe and widespread violations of religious freedom” and “government-sponsored harassments, detention and imprisonment faced by individuals and leaders of diverse religious communities”. Describing Vietnam as a “severe violator” or religious freedom, the Commission called on the U.S. State Department to re-designate Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. Vietnam was blacklisted as a CPC for two consecutive years (2004 and 2005) before being removed in 2006. The list of CPCs will be made public when the State Department issues its International Religious Freedom Report later this month.

During their trip to Vietnam, the US Commission met with UBCV leader Thich Quang Do in Saigon and senior UBCV monks and leaders of the Buddhist Youth Movement in Hue, as well as members of the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hoa Hao and Cao Dai communities, and representatives of the ethnic Montagnard Protestants, Hmongs and Khmer Krom Buddhists. They also visited religious activists Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan at Cau Dien Prison in Hanoi.

“The USCIRF’s report not only reveals grave and widespread human rights abuses, but also the disastrous effect of Vietnam’s repressive policies on the population. In this period of grave economic crisis, the religious communities – especially Buddhism, Vietnam’s largest civil society movement – could be precious allies in fighting poverty and alleviating the sufferings of the urban and rural poor. Instead, the government considers the UBCV as an enemy and subjects its followers to detention, harassment and isolation”, declared Vo Van Ai.

“The report is also very timely, coming just before the State Department’s Annual International Religious Freedom Report” he said. “Ambassador John Hanford, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, has never been allowed to meet dissidents such as Most Venerable Thich Quang Do. His assessment of the Buddhist situation has therefore been based largely on government information, and his report last year reflected Hanoi’s view-point that the UBCV is repressed because it is “political”. Hopefully, the important first-hand information published in the USCIRF’s “Vietnam Policy Focus” will give the U.S. State Department a new perspective on the situation of religions in general, and Buddhism in particular in Vietnam”.

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