WASHINGTON, Oct 27 (AFP) – A US Congress-mandated commission has asked the State Department to retain Vietnam in a blacklist of religious rights violators.
“Vietnam should be maintained as a “country of particular concern” in the department’s annual religious freedom report,” the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said at a Congressional hearing on Wednesday.
The report is due to be released soon.
“We have been encouraged by the Vietnam government’s promises over the past year to improve conditions for its ethnic and religious minorities, but we remain disappointed that promises have not yet been translated into positive change,” said Michael Cromartie, the commission’s chairman.
“Though there have been some releases of prominent religious prisoners, recent events suggest that repression of the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief continues,” he said.
Cromartie said although the State Department entered into an “agreement” with Vietnam in May this year for the communist state to implement religious reforms and consider releasing prisoners to avoid more stringent actions, there had been little concerted action.
“The actions taken thus far to carry out the aforementioned agreement only signal promises of improvement and not actual measurable progress,” he said.
“Restrictions on all religious groups continue, but pressure recently has been the most acute on the Mennonites, Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, ethnic minority and “house church” Protestants, and the Hoa-Hao Buddhists,” he added.
Vo Van Ai, the Paris-based spokesman for the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, told the hearing that the group remained a “major target of repression in Vietnam.”
After almost three decades in detention, the group’s patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 87, and his deputy Thich Quang Do, 76, “are still prisoners in their monasteries simply for their peaceful advocacy of religious freedom and human rights,” he said.
About half of the 80 million Vietnamese are Buddhists.
Huoang Henry Lee of the National Hoa Hao Buddhist Association said Vietnam detained in August 12 Hoa Hao Buddhists for demanding greater religious freedom. One of them died after self-immolation to protest the action while many others were jailed.
Christopher Smith, the Republican Representative for New Jersey, said one of those jailed was Vo Vanh Thanh Liem, who had “courageously” testified in a US Congressional hearing on human rights last June.
“Whatever the purported charges, these actions can only be interpreted as a deliberate retaliation for his cooperation with the House of Representatives,” Smith said.