Vietnam and communism's victims
June 17, 2007
June 12, President Bush spoke at the dedication of the Victims of Communism
Memorial that honors the memories of those killed in communist regimes. He said
their deaths should remind the American public "evil is real and must be
confronted." Ironically, this Friday, June 22, President Bush will honor the
president of a tyrannical communist regime that murdered over a million
Vietnamese and ethnic minorities with a White House visit during which he has
the opportunity to confront that evil.
Recently, dozens of democracy activists, journalists, cyber-dissidents and
Christian and other religious leaders were arrested and imprisoned by the
Vietnamese communists. Congressional leaders and human-rights groups have
charged Hanoi with "unbridled human-rights abuses," the "worst wave of
oppression in 20 years." Those recently arrested are but a few of the hundreds
of political and religious prisoners in Vietnam; some have been tried, while
those less visible simply "disappeared." This mounting crackdown is a deliberate
diplomatic slap in the face of the United States.
Hanoi brazenly aired on TV the kangaroo court trial of Thaddeus Nguyen Van
Father Ly, who was muzzled during the proceedings. In Vietnamese, the colloquial
phrase for censorship is "bit mieng" -- to cover the mouth. The picture of
Father Ly's muzzling seems a literal enactment of an old cliche. Denied
representation, Father Ly was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
Mr. Bush's endorsement for Hanoi's admission into the World Trade Organization
at last year's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Hanoi, the removal
of Vietnam from listed as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), and the
granting of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) were all predicated on the
Communist Party substantially improving its human-rights record.
It should come as no surprise that after the granting of these privileges, the
Vietnamese communists continued and intensified their repression.
Though Vietnam professes great strides in religious freedom, one must look under
the veneer to seek the truth. For example, in 2006, the Vietnamese government
claimed that "25 denominations" had received certificates to carry on religious
activities, when in fact they were only individual house churches.
The price of
these certificates is the surrender of religious freedom. The church must submit
to the central Bureau of Religious Affairs (CBA) a list of the names and
addresses of members, and only those approved by the CBA can attend services.
All sermons must be approved by the CBA, and all sermons, including those of
minorities, must be given in Vietnamese. Pastors and priests can neither deviate
from the approved sermon nor proselytize, and the CBA police monitor all
Montagnards, Hmong and other Christians, Khmer Krom Monks, members of the Cao
Dai faith, and Hoa Hao are still relentlessly persecuted. This is what Hanoi
calls religious freedom, and the U.S. administration was naive enough to believe
them and removed them from the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list of
countries that suppress religious freedom.
Recently, the Vietnamese communist regime demanded of the U.N. Permanent Forum
on Indigenous Issues the cancellation of scheduled films to be screened at the
May 22 forum. One film, "Hunted Like Animals," sponsored by the Hmong-Lao Human
Rights Council depicted the genocide against the Hmong, and the other film
depicted human-rights abuses against the Khmer Krom by the Vietnamese
communists. It should come as no surprise that the United Nations acquiesced to
the demands of the repressive Hanoi regime.
Reminiscent of the days of slavery in the "Old South," Montagnards who flee from
repression in the Central Highlands are hunted down like wild animals. Vietnam
pays bounties to Cambodian police for every Montagnard they catch and turn over
to them. Vietnam considers refugees seeking asylum in another country to have
violation its national security, punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years.
Recently, three Montagnards were arrested by Cambodian police and charged with
"human trafficking" for the so-called crime of aiding other Montagnards to flee
the repression in Vietnam via the Montagnards' "underground railroad." Although
Cambodia does little to stop the trafficking of children for prostitution, the
communist regime is prosecuting these Montagnards on Vietnam's request in hopes
it will convince the U.S. it is serious about trafficking. Vietnam pulls the
strings of the marionette Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Reports continue from behind the curtain of silence drawn around the Central
Highlands of the torture and deaths of Montagnard Christians. During a February
trip to Hanoi, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population,
refugees and migration, told a press conference that the Vietnamese officials
assured her that Montagnards can freely travel to the Embassy in Hanoi or the
Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to voice any grievances.
Montagnards should stay in Vietnam and not seek asylum in Cambodia. Given the
Vietnamese communists history of repression and broken promises, how can Mrs.
Sauerbrey be naive enough to believe Montagnards suffering persecution would
ever to be allowed through the phalanx of Vietnamese police surrounding the U.S.
Embassy and Consulate?
As predicted, Hanoi has announced the release of a few token high-profile
political prisoners in an attempt to smooth the way for the arrival of Vietnam's
President Triet, and in hopes of placating President Bush, the State Department
and Congress. Can this administration be gullible enough to fall for yet another
charade by the Vietnamese communists?
President Bush, keeping faith in the spirit of the Victims of Communism Memorial
that "evil is real and must be confronted," should demand of Vietnam's president
the release of all of the hundreds of political prisoners including those
recently arrested and the more than 350 Christian Montagnards that seem to have
been forgotten by this administration.
* Mike Benge is an advocate for human rights and religious freedom in South