Religious commission urges US to put Vietnam on list of oppressors


Washington : An independent US group that monitors religious freedom around the world has urged the US government to put Vietnam back on its list of most serious violators.

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In its annual report to the State Department Friday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said Vietnam continued to impose “severe religious restrictions” on minority religions including Protestants, Buddhists, Mennonites and others.

The US in 2006 took Vietnam off its list of “countries of particular concern” over discrimination on the basis of religion, after the government released a number of prisoners and reopened churches that had been forcibly closed down in the country.

US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said the Vietnamese government was still making improvements on religious freedom, and that religious groups in the country reported a “significant decrease in the instances of harassment and abuse directed at religious believers”.

The US and Vietnam have mended relations over the past decade since former president Bill Clinton re-established ties in 1995, more than 20 years after the end of the Vietnam War.

US President George W. Bush visited the communist country in 2006 and President Nguyen Minh Triet in June became the first Vietnamese leader since the war to visit the White House.

The USCIRF said that “notable progress” on religious freedom in Vietnam “has occurred alongside persistent abuses, discrimination, and restrictions”.

Religious minorities are still imprisoned, harassed and beaten and discriminated in the country, the commission said.

Other countries that remain on the State Department list are Myanmar, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The commission attacked the Chinese government for launching “severe crackdowns” on Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims as well as Christians and the outlawed Falun Gong religious movement.

China has recently come under heavy international criticism for its violent repression of an uprising in Tibet, just months before it hosts the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.