Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai
Amid new reports of attacks on Christians in Vietnam, a human-rights monitor is urging President Bush to address religious persecution in his historic meeting today with the communist country’s head of state.
Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom says its sources have reported beatings, forced renunciation of faith and land confiscations carried out against Hmong Christians.
Bush’s meeting in Washington with Prime Minister Phan Van Khai is the first of its kind since the Vietnam war, as the two nations mark 10 years of normalized relations. Hanoi is asking the U.S. for help to join the World Trade Organization.
But Freedom House says the oppression of religious minorities in Vietnam continues despite a May 5 agreement with the United States that Vietnam would liberalize its treatment of religious believers.
“President Bush must be frank in his discussions with Prime Minister Phan Van Khai about American concern for religious rights, the keystone of democracy, and not restrict his discussion to military and economic cooperation,” said Nina Shea, the center’s director.
Shea said there has been a “breach of good faith on the part of Hanoi.”
“The May 5 agreement has been flouted and it is now time to implement sanction provisions under the International Religion Freedom Act,” she said.
In April, according to reports, officials seized the properly registered land of 12 Christian families in Lu Khai Villiage, in the Ta Pinh Commune of Sa Pa District.
Members of the families said officials told them their land was seized because they “believe in a Christian God.” Officials reportedly informed the 12 families that their land would be reinstated if they signed an agreement renouncing Christianity. They also threatened to confiscate the land of 33 other Christian families.
One alleged victim of the land confiscations, Siang A. Tihn, petitioned village officials, who responded by beating him twice, first on April 23, and again six days later. When he reported the abuse to the commune secretary, an official bound him with wire and forced him to lie for hours under the hot sun.
Tihn’s 70-year-old mother was thrown to the ground by a government cadre and forced to drink dirty water as she tried to work on the confiscated land, Freedom House said.
Tinh’s older brother, Giang A. Pao, was beaten unconscious by officials and remains weak and bedridden.
On May 5, the same day that the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford announced the agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam on “a number of important religious freedom concerns,” commune officials seized Tinh’s motorcycle because it “had been used for religious work.”
On May 16, Tihn and Cam petitioned the prime minister and the Government Religious Affairs Bureau but have received no reply.
Rev. Phung Quany Huyen, president of the legally-recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North), sent a letter to the government’s Bureau of Religious Affairs and to the Lao Cai People’s Committee about the recent land confiscations.
Huyen wrote, “None of the petitions about these grievances sent by the Hmong Christians to local officials have been investigated or answered.”