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2/3/11 Vietnam (MNN) ― Wikileaks recently published a U.S. Embassy cable revealing what appears to be an indifference about religious persecution. 

According to a related report from International Christian Concern, the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam is dismissing recent attacks on Christians in Vietnam as “land disputes.” The ICC report calls this document proof of “the State Department being lax in its assessment of religious persecution in Vietnam.”

In the cable, the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam determined that the situations (over Christmas) did not “meet the threshold of religious persecution” and should not distract the U.S. from “the significant gains in expanding religious freedom that Vietnam has made since the lifting of  CPC (Countries of Particular Concern) designation in November 2006.”

Todd Nettleton is with Voice of the Martyrs USA. His team recently traveled to Vietnam and saw for themselves the “significant gains.” On the one hand, he says, “It is better. Things have improved. There is less persecution than there was five or ten years ago,” but on the other hand, “we did hear stories of Christians being harassed, so persecution is still very much a part of following Christ in Vietnam.”

Is the U.S. Embassy no longer concerned with the issue of religious freedom in Vietnam? Nettleton doesn’t think so. They monitor what’s going on as a part of their mandate from the International Religious Freedom Act. In fact, “While we were there, a U.S. Embassy staff member was in the Highlands, was looking into religious freedom, and was rebuffed by the police in that area.” 

The issue is complicated in Vietnam. There are many reports that seem to conflict with the strides the government is making for its image. “The Vietnamese government has given more churches registration; they’ve given permission to operate. But even one of the pastors that we talked to very clearly made the statement, ‘Registration is not the same as religious freedom.”

Church registrations are often tools used by governments to keep an eye on what’s going on with Christians. This has proven true for believers in Vietnam, too. Nettleton explains that “those churches now have to do some things to answer to the government. They have some pressure and some control that the government exerts on them that they didn’t have before. One of the places where persecution is still going on at a fairly intense level is among the tribal minority groups in the Highlands.”

The persecution in the Highlands seems to be the dark underbelly of the image Vietnam is dealing with, especially among the hill tribes. However, that hasn’t stopped VOM partners from evangelizing. Rather, it seems to have had a galvanizing effect. “We talked to several tribal pastors who are leading unregistered churches amongst those tribal groups, and even doing missionary work, reaching out to other tribal groups.”  

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