In 2006, the U.S. State Department removed Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern, citing the release of religious prisoners and the easing of religious restrictions. Two months later, the United States granted Vietnam permanent normal trade status, paving the way for Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization in January 2007.
As soon as the regime had secured its goals, however, it unleashed a crack-down. Among the first to be arrested was internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Nguyen Van Dai, a Protestant Christian.
Arrested on March 6, 2007, and deemed guilty of violating Article 88 of the criminal code – “conducting propaganda against the state” – Nguyen Van Dai spent the next four years in prison in Hanoi (to March 2011) followed by four years house arrest (to March 2015).
Dai, 47, was subsequently re-arrested on Dec. 16, 2015, as he was preparing to meet with European Union representatives who were in Hanoi for the annual EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue. He is being held incommunicado, charged with violating Article 88, the maximum sentence for which is 20 years.
Denied access to her husband and fearing abusive treatment and unjust processes, Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh – also a strong Christian and courageous religious liberty advocate – is seeking assistance from the world’s leading democracies.
On May 10, Khanh presented her testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith. She is now in Australia, traveling with Vietnam Voice. http://vietnamvoice.org/
Green Light for Repression
On May 23, while on an official visit to Vietnam, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted the decades-long embargo on selling lethal weapons to Vietnam without requiring any concessions in return.
This despite the fact that the Vietnam Humans Rights Act of 2015 states, “It is the sense of
Congress that: it shall be U.S. policy that further easing of the prohibition on the sale of lethal
military equipment to Vietnam shall require Vietnam to take additional and sustained steps to
advance human rights protections.”
Smith called Obama’s move an “epic failure of diplomacy.” Phil Robertson, deputy director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch agreed.
“In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of U.S. leverage to improve
human rights in Vietnam – and has basically gotten nothing for it,” Robertson said.
In giving the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam exactly what it wanted without requiring anything in return, Obama has essentially given the party a green light to further escalate repression and persecution.
Consequently, religious liberty advocates hold grave fears for Dai and Khanh, especially as those fears are personified in the plight of pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and his wife, Tran Thi Hong.
The Rev. Nguyen Cong Chinh, a 45-year-old Protestant in the Central Highlands province of Gai Lai, has suffered systematic, violent persecution at the hands of Communist Party officials since 2003, when he protested ethnic-religious persecution and appealed for religious liberty.
Arrested on April 28, 2011, Pastor Chinh was sentenced on July 31, 2012 to 11 years in prison for violating Article 87 of the criminal code, “undermining national unity.” In prison, he has been subjected to lengthy periods of solitary confinement, numerous beatings, deprivations (including being denied the right to pray), and humiliating and traumatizing Cultural-Revolution- style criticism sessions that fuel inmate hostility against him.
Also targeted for systematic violent persecution is Pastor Chinh’s wife, Tran Thi Hong, for she too is a courageous religious liberty advocate.
On March 30 March, local regime officials forcefully prevented Hong from attending her scheduled meeting with a U.S. delegation led by David Saperstein, Ambassador-at-Large on International Religious Freedom. The meeting only went ahead after Hong managed to inform Saperstein that she had been ambushed, seized and escorted back home, at which point Saperstein intervened.
On the morning of April 14, however, officials abducted Hong from her home and took her to the office of the People’s Committee of Hoa Lu Ward, where she was interrogated and beaten by plainclothes agents for three hours, leaving her with injuries to her head, knees, legs, hands, and feet.
In May, Hong was forcibly dragged to the police station and interrogated on May 11, 12, 13, 27 and 28. On May 13, when her distressed 18-year- old son tried to protect her, he too was assaulted, strangled, bound and detained for the rest of the day.
The violent persecution of Hong and the re-arrest of Dai and have not gone unnoticed. On April 26, Amnesty International demanded “a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation” into “the alleged torture of Mrs. Tran Thi Hong.”
On June 2, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on the government of Vietnam to stop the persecution of Hong, “who has been repeatedly arrested and tortured as retaliation for informing the international community of human rights violations against her husband, who is in prison for peaceful religious activities.”
On June 7, a joint motion was tabled in the European Parliament requesting a debate on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Vietnam: European Parliament resolution on Vietnam (2016/2755(RSP)) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&reference=B8-2016-0761&format=XML&language=EN
New Dynamic Creates Opportunity
China’s territorial expansion in and militarization of the South China Sea has Vietnam looking for friends and allies. This new dynamic gives Western democracies more leverage with Vietnam than they have had in years.
What post-Christian “progressive” Western elites need to understand is that in Vietnam, the church is integral to civil society and is at the center of virtually all humanitarian, pro-democracy, and human rights work.
Consequently, a strong defense of religious freedom is a highly strategic means of advancing humanitarian work, human rights advocacy, and capacity building to further democracy and
Elizabeth Kendal is a religious liberty analyst and advocate. The author of two books, she publishes a weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, serves as the Director of Advocacy at Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) Canberra, and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology (MST). www.ElizabethKendal.com
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Publication date: June 13, 2016