Washington, DC – U. S. Senator Boxer (D-CA) wrote to President Bush today, asking him to condemn the Vietnamese government’s increasingly aggressive actions against Vietnamese Catholics.
The text of Senator Boxer’s letter follows:

October 2, 2008

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

I write today to express my grave concern over the Vietnamese government’s ongoing attempts to suppress prayer vigils by Vietnamese Catholics in Hanoi who are seeking the return of confiscated Church properties. As I understand, Catholic priests and church members are seeking the return of two properties in Hanoi that were seized after the Communist government took power in the 1950s—one in Thai Ha Parish in Hanoi, the other the site of the former Vatican Embassy.

Prayer vigils have occurred throughout much of 2008, and have grown in visibility recently as the Vietnamese government has sought to silence participants through intimidation, violence and arrest. Last month, the Vietnamese government went so far as to threaten legal action against Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet, the head of the Catholic Church in Hanoi. In addition, the Bureau Chief of the Associated Press in Hanoi, Ben Stocking, was beaten after photographing one of the prayer vigils. These actions are deplorable.

When Christopher Hill, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, testified before the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2008, he claimed that “religious freedom in Vietnam has expanded significantly,” and assured me that the Vietnamese government had “agreed to resolve the dispute” over the Vatican land “through negotiation.”

However, almost seven months later, it is clear that Vietnam is not fully respecting religious freedom or related human rights and that any meaningful effort by the Vietnamese government to peacefully end this dispute has been abandoned. This behavior is not befitting of a government that has itself touted significant improvement with respect to religious tolerance and is currently sitting on the United Nations Security Council.

As such, I respectfully request that you issue a statement of condemnation from the United States and redouble efforts to press Vietnam to seek a peaceful resolution to this crisis that respects the wishes of the Vietnamese Catholics in Hanoi. I also ask that you keep me apprised of progress on these efforts. It is long past time for Vietnam to fully adhere to internationally recognized standards regarding the freedom of religion, assembly, expression and association, and allow Vietnamese citizens to practice their faith without fear of intimidation or harm from their government.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request.

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator