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Hanoi (AsiaNews/Ucan) – The Vietnam government defended its policy of religious freedom in reaction to the U.S. State Department’s recent decision to add Vietnam to its list of countries that it says violate the right to religious freedom.
“We strongly protest the decision of the U.S. State Department to list Vietnam as one of the ‘countries of particular concern’ in its annual report on religious freedom,” said Le Dung , Vietnam ‘s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, in a response televised throughout the country.
In the U.S. State Department’s sixth annual International Religious Freedom Report, released Sept. 15, Vietnam is cited in that category for the first time. It is grouped with China , Cuba , Laos , Myanmar and North Korea under the heading “Totalitarian or Authoritarian Actions to Control Religious Belief or Practice.” Dung said Vietnam “respects and protects freedom of belief and religion of all citizens,” which is stated in the Ordinance on Beliefs and Religion adopted June 18 by the Standing Committee of Vietnam’s National Assembly. The ordinance is scheduled to take effect Nov. 15. Dung said the U.S. decision is “based on erroneous information that does not reflect the true religious situation in Vietnam .” However, Reverend Pham Dinh Nhan, head of Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship, asserts the ordinance “will create many problems and disadvantages” for fellowship members, “especially for our worship gatherings.” The Evangelical leader said the religion ordinance is “likely to permanently outlaw our house-church organizations, none of which have been recognized since 1975.” He added that many articles in the ordinance also provide a legal basis for local authorities to hinder and persecute Churches.