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President Bush Urges Religious Freedom in Vietnam in Careful Comments

By BosNewsLife News Center

11/20/06 Vietnam (BosNewsLife) “A whole society is a society which welcomes basic freedoms,” Bush said, after visiting the Cua Bac Church, a Catholic basilica on a tree-lined street in the diplomatic district of Hanoi, to show support for Vietnam’s faithful. He stressed that that there’s none more basic than “the freedom to worship as you see fit.”

During the Vietnamese-language ecumenical service where “Amen” and “alleluia,” were likely the only words he understood. He had his wife, Laura, reportedly took a private moment “to converse with God,” as no sermon was delivered. Bush did not speak to the audience, but later shared his own views with interested reporters.

Bush said, “It’s our way of expressing our personal faith and at the same time urging societies to feel comfortable with and confident in saying to their people, ‘If you feel like praising God, you’re allowed to do so in any way you see fit,'” he added, on his first visit to communist Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

This week the United States removed China from its list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ regarding religious freedom, a move that has angered dissidents and human rights groups.

OPEN LETTER

In an open letter obtained by BosNewsLife Sunday, November 19, a group of high-profile dissidents accused the Vietnamese government of “harsh repressive measures against Vietnamese democracy loving dissidents during the APEC Summit.”

They said authorities had shown a “fear of being exposed to an international audience on their suppression of human rights and on the social evils created by this totalitarian regime.”

The measures included, “disconnecting telephones, scrambling waves to prevent dissidents from communicating with each other or with the international media,” with mobile phones, as well as “confiscating computers and blocking internet access,” the dissidents said.

Well-known dissident Dr. Pham Hong Son was allegedly beaten and arrested by police forces November 17 after telling international media that areas where dissidents live had been surrounded by police forces.

“VIOLENT CONDUCT”

“We strongly condemn this violent conduct…We request the Vietnamese government to cease immediately this course of action and pay proper compensation for the material damages it has caused to its victims,” the letter writers said.

“We earnestly call on the democracy loving governments and people in the world, especially those nations attending the APEC Summit, to take necessary measures to prevent such barbarous conduct, which gravely violates human rights, by the government of Vietnam, relative to Vietnamese citizens who dearly love democracy and freedom,” the dissident added.

The open letter was signed by Catholic Priest Nguyen Van Ly and others including pro democracy activists and writers Hoang Tien, Nguyen Khac Toan and Journalist Le Tri Tue.

Several human rights groups have also expressed concerns over the continues detention of hundreds of predominantly Christian Montagnards and other believers as well as the harassment of church leaders and dissidents.

GOVERNMENT DENIES

Vietnam’s government has said however there are no deliberate human rights abuses and points out that several house churches have received official recognition by being allowed “to register” themselves with the authorities.

Back at the APEC summit in Hanoi, Bush did not address the human rights issues directly. He focused talks on trade and seeking support from China and Russia for a tough stand on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

As the meeting came to a close, President Bush also joined with leaders of 20 other Asia-Pacific economies in a pledge to advance stalled global trade talks.

His visit to Vietnam was seen however as an attempt to underscore a new era in relations between Hanoi and Washington 31 years after the Vietnam war in which roughly one million Vietnamese civilians and nearly 60,000 US soldiers died