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04/07/2022 Vietnam (International Christian Concern) – Vietnamese authorities announced plans to deliver thousands of religious books to the country’s prisons. Unfortunately, according to testimonies from former inmates and activists, prisoners will still be prohibited from freely practicing their faith while incarcerated.  

According to a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA), several government ministries collaborated to approve a list of 17 books, including the Bible, and distribute 4,400 copies to 54 prisons. These books include religious and theological texts, books on the history of religions, and even analyses of Vietnamese laws regarding religion.  

Maj. Gen. Thuong Van Nghiem, deputy director of the Ministry of Public Security’s Department of Homeland Security, said that the plan demonstrates Vietnam’s commitment to ensuring religious freedom and conveys a message about the country’s efforts to support civil, political, and human rights. 

Despite these promising claims, Vietnam’s religious minorities remain unconvinced of the plan’s efficacy. 

Tran Minh Nhat, a Catholic who was jailed from 2011 to 2015 on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government,” told RFA’s Vietnamese Service the distribution of the books was a public relations move by Vietnam’s communist government.  

“In most cases, their inclusion of scriptures or religious publications is mainly for embellishment purposes. The government or the Ministry of Public Security reviews and provides religious publications mainly to deceive public opinion and cover the public’s eyes, not to meet the needs of those who are serving jail sentences. It’s just for the sake of doing it,” he said. 

Nhat spent time with six different prisoners during his five-year sentence. In each, prisoners were prohibited from having their own Bibles, Buddhist scriptures, or any religious publication, even items licensed by the government. Prisoners of any faith are prohibited from praying in groups, he said. 

The Vietnamese government has never cared about religious, political, or ethnic rights, Siu Wiu, who spent 13 years in prison for “disturbing security” by performing Protestant rituals in public, told RFA. 

“The Communists never tell the truth. They say one thing but do another. I’m living proof. There’s no such thing,” he said.  

During his years in prison, Wiu was only able to pray alone and quietly, as the prisoners were not allowed to pray publicly. 

Punishments for practicing his religion were severe. 

One time, my wife visited me and smuggled a Bible in an instant noodle packet for me. When prison staff spotted the Bible, they chained me up for seven days,” said Siu. 

“Prior to that, I was disciplined and shackled for two weeks and then put in solitary confinement for six months because one time, when I called home, I asked the people in the village to pray for me on Sundays,” he said. 

The latest report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, released on Feb. 7, 2021, marked the 15th consecutive year that Vietnam was included by the U.S. on its list of “countries of particular concern” on religious freedom because of its repression on independent religious groups not recognized by the government. 

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