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dpa : Vietnam slams U.S. religious freedom decision

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HANOI, Sept 16, 2004 (dpa) – Vietnam slammed the United States decision Thursday to designate the country as one of eight countries of particular concern in a religious freedom report.

“It is a wrongful decision based on erroneous information and inaccurate reflection of Vietnam’s situation,” Vietnam’s press spokesman said in a strongly-worded reaction to the decision.

Relations between the two countries could be negatively affected by the designation, Le Dung said. “The decision of the State Department of the United States by no means benefits the common efforts of the government and peoples of Vietnam and the U.S. to build a relationship of stability and lasting cooperation in the interests of the two people,” the spokesman said.

The religious freedom report said there were at least 45 people in prison or detained for religious reasons, while another 11 remain under de facto house arrest. Hanoi strongly disputed this account.

“In Vietnam there is no such thing as religious prisoners or forced renunciations of faith. All religious organizations are provided with favourable conditions to function normally in accordance with the laws,” Le Dung said.

This is the first time that Vietnam has been added to the U.S. list of countries of particular concern, a move welcomed by religious rights groups.

“The designation of Vietnam as a country of particular concern is an important step forward for religious freedom in Vietnam, and it is good news for all the victims of persecution,” said Vo Van Ai, Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau. The bureau is the information arm of the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), a group banned in Vietnam.

Vietnam recognizes and supervises a number of religious groups including Buddhists, Catholics, some Protestants, Moslems, and the Cao Dai and Hoa Hoa Buddhist sect.

However, members of unrecognized groups continued to face difficulties, the report said.

The government continued to restrict significantly those organized activities of religious groups that it regards to be at variance with state laws and policies or a challenge to party authority, according to the 32-page report.

Vietnam routinely insists that no one is imprisoned for their religious beliefs. But Article 258 of the country’s penal code proscribes jail terms of up to three years for abusing the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of belief, religion, assembly, association and other democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state.

The other states named as countries of particular concern were Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Eritrea.

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