Congressional Hearing: Human Rights in Vietnam
Vietnam Continues To Suppress Religion, Indigenous Rights: U.S. Congressional Testimony
VNRN | MARCH 28, 2014
Religious leaders and activists, testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress on March 26, told of numerous attempts by the Vietnamese government to persecute the communities of faith that do not accept government controls.
The hearing, streamed live on the Internet and chaired by Congressman Frank Wolf, led with the testimony of Eric P. Schwartz, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, who told the commission that the “Vietnamese government exerts control over religious activities through law and administrative oversight, severely restricts independent religious practice, and represses individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority.”
Vietnam has “a specialized religious police force,” Schwartz testified, and uses “vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities and has sought to stop the growth of the Protestant and Catholic religions among ethnic minorities.”
Schwartz further brought up the suppression faced by Khmer Buddhists in the southern province of Soc Trang, many of whom were sentenced to long prison terms just in the last six months.
Specially appearing before the commission are two religious leaders who spoke from Vietnam via video, Catholic priest Phan Van Loi (Phan Văn Lợi) and Cao Dai Sub-Dignitary Nguyen Bach Phung (Nguyễn Bách Phụng, pictured). “Sub-dignitary” is a clergy designation in the Cao Dai religion, roughly equivalent to a Christian minister or priest.
Father Loi testified that, 33 years after his consecration as a priest, he is “still unable to function like a priest” because the government has been holding him in detention for his campaigning for religious freedom.
In Vietnam, civil society is forming, he said, including “the Catholic Church and organizations within the church.” However, the government is blocking the development of civil society, using administrative control devices.
Sub-dignitary Bach Phung told the panel that the government has “suppressed, disbanded and obliterated independent faiths.” She called for the government to “restore the sovereignty and property as well as human rights for independent religions to practice their beliefs.”
Representing the North Carolina-based Montagnard Human Rights Organization, the group’s Executive Director Rong Nay told the panel that the oppression by the Vietnamese government is “systematic” and includes forcing Protestants ethnic minorities to renounce their faith.
“Any changes has been in name only,” Nay said, referring to the religious and human rights of Vietnam.
Also testifying is the Director of Policy Advocacy of the Hmong National Development, Yunie Hong, who testified to numerous instances of discrimination and mistreatment of the Hmong minority people of Vietnam, especially in the northern part of the country. Hong specifically talked about the trials against Hmong Christians that has already resulted in three people convicted under Article 258 for “abusing freedoms” and a fourth trial to resume next week.
The hearing room was packed with Vietnamese-Americans who had come to the Capitol for a two-day Vietnam Advocacy event, organized by BPSOS, a community service and advocacy group based in Virginia. The event has drawn more than 600 people to Washington DC, BPSOS said, who will knock on the doors of their representatives seeking support for human rights in Vietnam.
“Our goal is to push back the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” BPSOS Executive Director Thang Dinh Nguyen told the RFA Vietnamese Service. TPP is a proposed Pacific basin free trade agreement. “Vietnam must demonstrate by specific concessions on human rights beforehand.”
Hearing on the Persecution of Religious & Indigenous Communities in Vietnam
On Wdenesday, March 26, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a public hearing on the persecution of religious and indigenous communities in Vietnam. The hearing focused on Vietnam’s persecution and repression of faith and indigenous communities, and also examined the U.S. government’s response to these human rights abuses. Notably, for the first time, the Commission hearing featured prominent activists testifying directly from Vietnam. These brave individuals provided first-hand accounts of the abuses suffered by their respective communities.
In the 1970s, following the emergence of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under the Communist Party of Vietnam, the government disbanded the leadership of all independent-minded religious organizations; and the country’s Communist cadres quickly appointed new leaders of these organizations. Further, as stipulated by its 2004 Ordinance on Religion and Belief, Vietnam’s government requires all religious organizations to be registered and their activities pre-approved. Organizations that refuse to register or whose registration applications have been denied risk having their activities deemed illegal and expose their leaders and followers to arrest and harassment. More recently, the 2013 Government Decree 92/2012/ND-CP banned all religious, cultural and traditional activities – even when conducted in private homes – unless they are registered, pre-approved, or officiated by a government entity.
In addition, the government’s policies of land appropriation, population displacement and prohibition of indigenous languages in schools have altered the identities of its indigenous peoples and weakened their cultural heritage. Today, there is virtually no authentic representation of indigenous peoples in the government of Vietnam.
• Mr. Eric P. Schwartz, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
• Father Phan Van Loi, Editor-in-Chief of "Freedom of Speech" and Co-Founder of the Association of Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience
• Sub-dignitary Nguyen Bach Phung, Clergy member of an independent Cao Dai Sect
• Attorney Yunie Hong, Director of Policy Advocacy, Hmong National Development
• Mr. Rong Nay, Executive Director, Montagnard Human Rights Organization
For any questions, please contact the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at 202-225-3599 or firstname.lastname@example.org
James P. McGovern
Frank R. Wolf
As Catholic priest Phan Van Loi testifies before the U.S. Congress via video, RFA interviews Rong Nay, executive director of the Montagnard Human Rights Organization.
The government has “suppressed, disbanded and obliterated independent faiths.”
Testament from Vietnamese Inter-Faith Association on Recent Violations of Religious Freedom by the Government Of Vietnam
March 29, 2014
VRNs - Saigon, Vietnam
(Released in Vietnam on March 25, 2014; Translation by VFP)
Respectfully presented to:
- All Vietnamese living inside of Vietnam and Abroad
- Leaders and worshipers from all religions in Vietnam
- The United Nations and government of democratic countries
- The government of Republic Socialist of Vietnam.
- Human Rights organizations worldwide
- Democracy-loving friends worldwide
During the session for Human Rights Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland on February 5th, 2014, Vietnam’s Deputy Secretary of State Ha Ngoc Kim stated that: “The consistent policy from the government of Vietnam is to respect and accommodate everyone’s wish to practice freedom of religion and belief, to respect the harmony and agreement between religions, to prohibit discrimination against religious and belief backgrounds, and to protect religious activities with laws” (page 32), and “for ethnic minorities, religious freedom and equality are protected and supported by the government” (page 34).
In the afternoon of February 7th, 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed to the Vietnamese representatives 227 recommendations from member countries, many of which demand the government of Vietnam to respect freedom of religion, especially freedom of religion for Vietnamese ethnic minorities. The government of Vietnam promised to correspond to these recommendations at the 26th meeting of the United Nations in June, 2014. In addition, the government of Vietnam also promised to allow an inspection by UN’s Special Rapporteur in Religious Freedom in July of 2014.
The followings are what the government of Vietnam has done recently in “preparation” for the two international correspondences mentioned above:
1. Persecuting Hoa Hao Buddhist Worshipers
On February 11th, 2014, a group of 21 citizens, with a large majority of them were Hoa Hao Buddhist worshipers, went to Long Hung Commune, Lap Vo district, Dong Thap province to visit former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen. Mr. Truyen was arrested by police on February 9th, 2014. During this arrest, they vandalized his home, slandered his belief by breaking the altar, and brutally assaulted him. Before the group got to Mr. Truyen’s house, they were ambushed by almost a thousand policemen and government’s thugs. The policemen violently beat their victims, robbed off all of their personal possessions, and locked them up for 2 days in a dark and dirty room without foods and drinking-water. There are three people still in police’s detention including Ms. Bui Thi Minh Hang, Ms. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, and Mr. Nguyen Van Minh. These three victims were moved to Dong Thap province’s prison and would be charged with Article 245, section 2, part C for falsely accused crimes of “illegal gathering, disturbing public peace, serious interfering with common traffic, and obstruction of justice.”
On February 27th, 2014, Dong Thap province’s TV station ran a news clip depicting the arrests of Mr. Nguyen Bac Truyen and of the 21 citizens mentioned-above. This video clip was deceptive, illogical, and unreasonable with the purposes of forcing guilt on these individuals and misleading the public. In addition, Lap Vo district’s police tried to influence 5 Hoa Hao Buddhist worshipers during their questioning sessions to fallaciously testify against Ms. Hang. Ms. Quynh and Mr. Minh in their trials, in the future. After their releases, 17 of the 18 individuals wrote many letters and petitions to authorities, and none of them received any response.
On March 16th, these 17 people along with friends and supporters of Ms. Hang, Ms. Quynh, and Mr. Minh went to Hanoi. They met representatives from embassies of Germany, Australia, Norway, and the United States of America at Thai Ha church to inform them what really happened in Lap Vo, Dong Thap. With the involvement of foreign diplomats, Hanoi’s security forces could not interfere as they helplessly watched in antagonism. To revenge, they kidnapped Mrs. Dang ThiQuynhAnh, the daughter of Ms. Bui Thi Minh Hang on the night of March 22nd, 2014. Also on this night, the police joined neighborhood watch forces and government’s thugs to break into and surround Thai Ha church causing chaos in the middle of the night.
2. Prohibiting Memorial Service for Hoa Hao Buddhism’s Prophet Huynh Phu So
Hoa Hao Buddhist Association insisted on organizing a memorial service on the day that Prophet Huynh Phu So was ambushed on February 25th of the lunar calendar, which coincides with March 25th, 2014; this memorial service was planned at the house of Mr. Nguyen Van Vinh in Long Hoa hamlet, Long Giang Commune, Cho Moi district, An Giang province. On March 18th, 2014, the government sent a group of officials to this location to prohibit people from conducting the ceremony with the threat of severe punishment for those disobeying the order. The government also summoned all of the Hoa Hao Buddhist leaders to hand them a similar order.
Because Hoa Hao Buddhist worshipers strongly resisted this illegal order, a force of more than 300 personnel from both regular and riot police along with government’s thugs equipped with fire-trucks stormed Mr. Vinh’s house. They used fire hoses to spray all over the site, and forced everyone in the house (numbered to about 30 people) to kneel down and brutally beat on them. To protest these violent acts from the security forces, Mrs. Nguyen ThiXinh, an 80-year old worshiper, grabbed a container with about 10 liters of gasoline to set herself on fire. The thugs beat her until she collapsed; they stripped off all of her clothes, tied her up and let her lay unconscious on the ground. After the beating, the police searched the premise for any materials used for the ceremony including banners, video recorders, cameras, microphone, and amplifier. They destroyed Mr. Vinh’s home, confiscated all of the cellular phones and arrested a total of 14 people, young and old. This violent attack coupled with senseless robbing left many people with serious injuries. The worst injuries occurred with the wife of Mr. Ha Hai, who died in the year 2000 during his imprisonment in Xuan Loc. She is being treated at the emergency room of ChauThanh district’s hospital in An Giang province. The homes of all of the Hoa Hao Buddhist leaders are currently being surrounded with 30 to 50 police on each home. Nobody is allowed to enter or exit, even for medical reasons.
3. Discriminating Against Hmong Ethnic Minorities
At the end of 2013, the public was disturbed with the arrest of many Hmong ethnic minorities along the northern border, who follow Christian Memonites leading by Mr. Duong Van Minh. Mr. Minh encouraged the Hmong community to practice “new method” of conducting funerals for the deceased or weddings to reduce problems and wasteful spending. However, the government views these changes as “evil practices”; and they aggressively persecute any activity related to these changes. The government arrested 8 people seen as leaders of the movement or organizers for Hmong ethnic minorities going to Hanoi to petition against local governments for interfering with these changes.
Beginning in mid-March, 2014, these 8 people were prosecuted according to Article 258 in Vietnam’s Criminal Codes. Article 258 is often used to suppress freedom of expression and spiritual freedom. On March 14th, 2014, Mr. Hoang Van Sang was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
On March 20th, 2014, Mr. Duong Van Tu was convicted and sentenced to 21 months in prison; and Mr. Ly Van Dinh was convicted and sentenced to 15 months in prison. Five other individuals will have to stand trials soon. Mr. Duong Van Minh himself served 5 years in prison, and is currently disallowed to receive medical treatments. On March 20th, 2014, almost 1000 Hmong ethnic people marched peacefully with banners in hands to the courthouse demanding freedom for these people. The police broke up this march by stopping part of the group from getting to the courthouse. They snatched and destroyed the banners, used tear gas, batons, and stun guns on the marchers. Dozens of people were violently beaten, and 4 or 5 people were arrested.
In response to these despicable and atrocious suppressions on freedom of religion, the Vietnamese Inter-Faith Association hereby issues this testament to:
1. Strongly condemn the communist government of Vietnam from central to the local level on these illegal, wrongful and irrational behaviors. The election of Vietnam into the United Nations Human Rights Council, the government of Vietnam’s signatory in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, declaration of Vietnam’s Respecting the Laws day, and the government’s reports on human rights progress are total deceptions for the Vietnamese People and the international community.
2. Hoa Hao Buddhism, which has constantly, been under persecution since 1975; especially the yearly ceremony to commemorate the ambush and disappearance of Prophet Huynh Phu So in the hands of Viet Minh communists has been severely restricted. The current government does not even try to undo the sinful deeds conducted by their predecessors. Instead, they continue this wrongful path to destroy a religion started from fine Vietnamese tradition with Four Major Responsibilities. Their actions would be only causing deeper division and disgust in the Vietnamese People.
3. To the Hmong community, the comparison of positive changes initiated by Mr. Duong Van Minh to “unrecognized religious activities” so the government can aggressively suppress them proves that the political system in Vietnam is a totalitarian regime. They want to hinder all aspects of a civic society including freedom of religion and belief, and to guide the people’s mindset in the faithless, dictatorship society. In addition, this also proves that the government discriminates against the ethnic minorities.
4. Religions are important social forces in building conscience, culture, morals, and social stability. The unfaithful communist government of Vietnam has been persecuting against these communities with evil strategies causing Vietnamese society to plunge into deception, violence, chaos, destruction, and stagnation. The communist government of Vietnam is entirely responsible for these depressing conditions in the People and country of Vietnam.
5. We are totally unified in sharing these adversaries that the suppressed religious are facing unfairly. We hope that the Vietnamese nationals living inside of Vietnam and abroad and the international community share these concerns to help fight for freedom. Democracy, and human rights in Vietnam. As members of the Vietnamese Inter-Faith Association, we vow to stay side-by side for a positive contribution in this movement.
Written in Vietnam on March 25th, 2014.
Leaders from different religions hereby jointly signed:
- Mr. Le Quang Liem, Chairman of Hoa Hao Buddhist Association (Phone number: 0199 243 2593)
- Honorable Venerate Thich Khong Tanh, Buddhist (Phone number: 0165 6789 881)
- Father Phero Phan Van Loi, Catholic (Phone number: 0984 236 371)
- Father Giuse Dinh Huu Thoai, Catholic (Phone number: 0935 569 205)
- Father Anton Le Ngoc Thanh, Catholic (Phone number: 0993 598 820)
- Main Conductor Hua Phi, Cao Dai (Phone number: 0163 3273 240)
- Main Conductor Nguyen Bach Phung, Cao Dai (Phone number: 0988 477 719)
- Reverend Nguyen Hoang Hoa, Christian (Phone number: 0949 275 827)
- Reverend Ho Huu Hoang, Christian (Phone number: 0902 761 057)
- Reverend Nguyen Manh Hung, Christian (Phone number: 0906 342 908)
- Mr. Phan Tan Hoa, Hoa Hao Buddhist (Phone number: 0162 630 1082)
- Mr. Tran Nguyen Huon, Hoa Hao Buddhist (Phone number: 0167 341 0139)
- Reverend Le Quang Du, Christian (Phone number: 0121 2002 001)
- Reverend Nguyen Trung Ton, Christian (Phone number: 0162 838 7716)