HANOI Sept 16, 2004 (AFP) – Vietnam on Thursday slammed the US State Department’s decision to name it a “country of particular concern” in its annual report on religious freedom, saying it was based on erroneous information.
“It is a wrongful decision based on erroneous information and inaccurate reflection of Vietnam’s situation,” said foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung in a statement.
It “by no means benefits the common efforts of the governments and peoples of Vietnam and the US to build a relationship of stability and lasting cooperation,” the statement added.
In the report, Vietnam was charged with pressuring minority protestants to recant their faith and with beating believers.
“A significant number of religious believers experience harassment or repression because they operate without legal sanction,” it said.
“Local officials have repressed unregistered protestant believers in the central and northwest highlands and other areas by forcing church gatherings to cease, demolishing or closing house churches, and pressuring them to renounce their religious beliefs, often unsuccessfully.”
The report also alluded to the difficult situation of several unauthorized churches, among which the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), whose main leaders are under house arrest.
“There were an estimated 44 religious prisoners and detainees, although the actual number may be much higher,” the report said adding at least 11 other individuals were held in conditions resembling house arrest.
Vietnam countered by saying its policy was to respect religious beliefs and denied it held any prisoners on the basis of their religion.
“Vietnam’s consistent policy is to respect and protect the rights to freedom of beliefs and religions and rights to freedom of non-beliefs and non-religions,” Le Dung said.
“There is no such thing as ‘religious prisoners’ or ‘forced renunciations to faith’” in the country.
Vietnam unveiled last July a new law on religion.
The decree, expected to come into force in November, served “as a legal basis to ensure the people’s basic right to beliefs and religious freedom and reinforce the state’s management in the area,” according to state media.
It also bans the “abuse of the right to religious freedom to undermine peace, independence and national unity, incite violence to wage war and disseminate information against the state’s laws”.
Thursday, the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau acting as a spokesman of the UBCV said the US move was an “important step forward for religious freedom in Vietnam.”