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Testimony of the Vietnam Human Rights Network on a New Wave Of Repression Against Religious Freedom and Human Rights In Vietnam



Submitted to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the Congressional Vietnam Caucus


Briefing On Vietnam’s Religious Freedom Violations

October 26, 2005

Rayburn House Office Bldg, Room 2200.

The U.S. Congress


Dear Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Congressman Chris Smith, Congressman Tom Lantos, Congressman Frank Wolf, Congressman Tom Davis, and other members of Congress,


The Hanoi government has started a new wave of repression against religious leaders since the last summer. The repression targets at members of Provincial Committees recently founded by the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. The Zenit news agency reports that despite recent improvements, religious believers in Vietnam still face government persecution. Priests are in short supply, due to government restrictions on seminaries and Catholic schools. Christians still have a hard time, facing arrest without charges. Homes of 10 Evangelical Christian families in Quang Ngai province were destroyed in late July. Montagnards and other ethnic groups, including Hmong Christians and Mennonites, continue to suffer at the hands of the government.?


The severity of the repression has become so brutal that two Hoa Hao Buddhists in the Mekong delta region have self-immolated in protest. In addition, more than 10 Hoa Hao Buddhists have been arrested, imprisoned or simply disappeared. The local police has intensified surveillance on Hoa Hao Buddhists, cut their phone lines and restricted their movement.


On October 8, Mr. Thom Van Ha and his son were beaten by policemen and militiamen in Thanh Hoa province on the charge of preaching the Gospel without permission and inducing people to follow the Christian religion. They were branded as trouble-makers, reactionists and traitors.


According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), there are about 100 religious prisoners in jail or under some form of house arrest and hundreds of churches, home worship centers and meeting places remain closed. Real freedom of religion in Vietnam still remains a distant goal for many.


The Washington Post recently reported that free speech issues are still problematic in Vietnam. In 2004, the communist government released more than 26,000 prisoners including 15 political or religious leaders, thanks to the decision by the U.S. to list Vietnam as a country of particular concern (CPC). However, Hanoi intentionally retains young dissidents behind bars. The U.S. Ambassador Michael Marine called on Vietnam to release all these 5 prisoners of conscience.? He said there is much more that the Vietnamese authorities can and should do to expand religious and political space.?


Vietnam has recently published a White Paper on Human Rights in which it promises to observe human rights including freedom of _expression. Reporters Without Borders comments that these statements are simply window-dressing unless Vietnam releases all three cyber dissidents:


(1) Nguyen Vu Binh, a journalist and writer. He was charged with “spying” and sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment, plus three years’ house arrest on release. His was arrested for writing a testimony to the US Congress about Human rights situation in Vietnam and an article entitled “Some Thoughts on the China-Vietnam Border Agreement”.


(2) Dr. Pham Hong Son. He was arrested in 2002 after translating an article entitled “What is Democracy?” from the website of the US Embassy in Vietnam and sent it to his friends and senior Communist Party officials. He was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment, plus three years’ house arrest on release.


(3) Nguyen Khac Toan, a former soldier, mathematics teacher and businessman. He was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment plus three years’ house arrest on release. He was arrested for passing via the Internet information on demonstrations and protests in Hanoi and assisting farmers to write petitions against corruption and land confiscation.??


The Hanoi government knows that it is impossible to monitor the country’s 5,000 cyber cafes. Therefore, it forces all cafwners to monitor cyber users for national security and defense reasons.?


Recent events show that Vietnamese authorities are still determined to keep a firm control over religious activities and media despite Vietnam has been a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights since 1982 and signed an agreement with the US to respect religious freedom in June 2005 during its Prime Minister Phan Van Khai’s visit.


International observers have been convinced that the Hanoi regime would not accept any reforms unless it is forced to do so. As an example, the communist government of Vietnam was forced to adopt the "Renovation" program and to withdraw troops from Cambodia in late 1980’s after Vietnam had been devastated by severe food shortages and the substantial reduction and eventual total cutoff of all foreign aid from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.


More recently, facing economic stagnation due to the Asian financial crisis in 1997-1998 and a desperate need to reverse the sharp decline in foreign direct investment and gain the WTO membership, the Hanoi regime was forced to sign the bilateral trade agreement with the U.S., develop the private sector, and liberalize the economy.


We strongly urge the State Department to retain Vietnam in the CPC list, and the U.S. Congress (1) not to grant Vietnam the permanent normal trade relation (PNTR) status, a prerequisite for a WTO membership, until the Hanoi government releases all religious and political leaders and respects freedom of religion, and (2) to pass the Vietnam Human Rights Act.





Nguyen M. Le

Chaiman, Vietnam Human Rights Network





(1)    The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Recommendations for U.S. Government Actions in Response to the Designation of Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Eritrea as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs),” Feb. 3, 2005.

(2)    The Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, “Letter to President George W. Bush,” Aug.13, 2005.

(3)    The International Buddhist Information Bureau, “Vietnam – New Wave of Repression Against the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam,” August 18, 2005

(4)    Zenit, “Religious Groups Vexed in Vietnam – Christian Still Have a Hard Time,” Sep. 24, 2005.

(5)    Thom Van Ha, “Open Letter to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and all,” Oct. 14, 2005.

(6)    Reporters without Borders, “Vietnam: Cyber dissident Nguyen Vu Binh Still Refuses “Self-Criticism” After Three Years in Jail,” Sep. 20, 2005.

(7)    The Washington Post, “Free Speech Issues Still Problematic For Vietnam,” Sep. 29, 2005.

(8)    The Vermont Guardian, “Blocking the Net: Corporations Help Governments Shut Down the Information Superhighway,” Sep. 16, 2005.?

(9)    Amnesty International, “Free the Cyber Dissidents,” Oct. 23, 2005.


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