VIETNAM: Catholics and dissidents prevented to meet with the USCIRF
Emily Nguyen5/18/2009

A delegation from US Committee for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has been in Vietnam for more than a week to meet with dissidents and Christians. However, Vietnam government has made its best effort to prevent such meetings.

As Vietnam continues to demonstrate a disturbing disregard for fundamental human rights, USCIRF has called on US State Department to re-designate Vietnam among the worst violators of religious freedom and demand the unconditional release of all prisoners of concern. Further, a USCIRF delegation led by Mr. Michel Cromatie has been in Vietnam since May 12 to meet with the political dissidents and Christians throughout Vietnam.

The USCIRF visitation has started with a meeting with Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem on May 12. Khiem reassured the USCRIF that “Vietnam always puts in every effort to make sure citizens’ religious rights are protected". However the statement made by this high ranking government official remains a far cry from reality. His government has been applying strict measures to prevent those who are on the delegation's list to be visited.

Police during the visit of the delagation in Thai Ha
During their visit to Vietnam, the USCIRF delegation plans to meet with well-known activists who have been subjected to government ongoing harassment such as Le Khac Toan, Do Nam Hai, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, Nguyen Van Dai, and Rev. Thich Quang Do of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Church. Also on the list are Father Nguyen Van Ly who is now serving time in prison for speaking out against the state policy, Hanoi Redemptorists, and Thai Ha defendants who were charged with criminal activities for participating in protest against Hanoi government's illegal use of the parish land and property.

Almost all people mentioned above have been talked to by the local police first to advise then to intimidate them about consequences for talking to the USCRIF. Dissidents like Nguyen Khac Toan, Do Nam Hai, and Dr. Nguyen Dan Que have all reportedly been harassed continually by the local police prior to the delegation's visit. These brave men, however, were able to sneak out from the tight control of the police in order to meet with the delegation to talk about human rights abuse in Vietnam.

Le Tran Luat, the dedicated attorney who defended the eight Thai Ha’s Catholic defendants in a trial last year, was supposed to be meeting with the USCIRF on May 16. However, he could not escape the iron grip of police watch in order to meet with the delegation as he has been anticipating. Though suffering from the most severe forms of persecution for his role as Catholic and human rights activist defender, Luat remains defiant even though his chance for practicing law again is now in jeopardy.

The delegation visit to the Hanoi Redemptorist superior Rev. Joseph Vu Khoi Phung and spokesman Peter Nguyen Van Khai, along with Thai Ha defendants didn't go on smoothly either. While they were talking with the USCIRF, local police, both uniformed and plain-clothed have been menacing outside the premise with only one obvious reason: to intimidate those who came to bare their souls on the religious rights abuse at Thai Ha within the past couple years.

In Son La province, notoriously known for government's severe rights abuse which seems to be spiraling out of control since the past two Christmas seasons, the intimidation tactics seem to be better planned and more organized than the rest of the country.

The local government has been preparing for the USCIRF's visit by summoning Catholic activists on May 16 evening to announce that only three persons, two of which are government officials (the third person is a Catholic but has been hospitalized for major illness whose chance to be discharged in time for the meeting is slim) are permitted to meet with the delegation, the rest of Christians are forbidden to contact the delegation. The chance for Son La Christians to be able to shed light into the harsh reality of religious freedom in their region is bleak, when in reality they are the ones who need help the most. Unless with massive intervention from outside, their freedom of religion, even their livelihood is in peril.

Local authorities in Son La have repeatedly argued that its people have no need for religious activities and that Vietnam needs to establish an autonomy Catholic Church, a copy of the one from China.

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