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Congressional briefing: religious freedom in Viet Nam

ICC Note

“They might not be burning churches anymore but then they take their land where the churches are built,”

Friday, December 07, 2007 Vietnam (Leadership Council for Human Rights)-The Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a tri-panel briefing Thursday on religious freedom in Viet Nam . Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-C.A.) served as briefing chair and, in her opening remarks, said: “During my eleven years working with Viet Nam I would say that the situation only got worse.”

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford had another view, though, saying that “there has been significant progress and a significant shift during the last two years” and it is important to recognize the “good things to be able to press on the problems. However, he did acknowledge that some Vietnamese provinces have adapted to the government’s new rules promoting religious freedom better then others. Regarding, recent gains, Hanford said that the Vietnamese government has recognized several religious groups, citing Baha’is as one example. By 2008, Hanford foresees the recognition of forty religious groups. He also mentioned the fact that the Vietnamese government has developed trainings related to religious freedom for its officials, but did say that it sometimes hard for local officials to adapt because the concepts are so new to them. Many in rural areas have never heard of Christianity before, Hanford said. Another success mentioned, was the fact that over one-thousand churches in the Central Highlands that were closed down have now been reopened.

On the matter of Viet Nam ’s 2006 removal from the U.S. government’s list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for restrictions on religious freedom, Hanford said that when Viet Nam ’s CPC designation was to be lifted, one of the requirements was the release the religious prisoners. According to Hanford , Viet Nam followed suit and released around fifty prisoners.

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Sanchez did not agree with Hanford ’s claim that Hanoi was making progress. “They might not be burning churches anymore but then they take their land where the churches are built,” she said.

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However, Leo also said that it is clear that in some areas the provincial and local authorities are using their authority to restrict and abuse religious freedom. “The central government either ignores these problems or has not yet done enough to curtail them,” he said.

“We pressed officials in Hanoi to train and, as needed, punish local and provincial officials who restricted or abused religious freedom. We fully expect them to address problems in the provincial areas as they promised. We are taking a wait-and-see attitude,” Leo added.

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