Vietnam: New wave of arrests for religious activists
A new wave of arrests of religious activists in Vietnam has raised questions about the country's commitment to freedom of religion.
In the last two months alone, Vietnamese authorities have detained at least 15 religious activists for expressing their beliefs, according to the group Human Rights Watch.
On July 30, police arrested three Catholic activists in Ho Chi Minh City, the rights watchdog said. The incident marked the start of a seven-week period that saw at least 12 others detained. Ten of those arrested now face subversion charges. If convicted, the charges carry sentences of between 5 and 15 years for those deemed "accomplices". Those found guilty of being an "organiser" could face the death penalty, or life in prison, according to HRW's deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson.
"These latest arrests demonstrate the Vietnam government's hostility toward people who seek to practise their faith freely, outside government constraints," Robertson said in a statement. "The authorities' actions against these peaceful religious advocates are a telling indicator of Vietnam's deepening abuses of human rights."
Catholics form the largest religious minority in Vietnam, at around 7 per cent, according to the US Department of State. However, the government wields significant control over the activities of organised religion. In the past, Vietnamese authorities have shut down unsanctioned churches and interrupted religious services deemed to be illegal.
HRW says the most recent wave of arrests mainly targeted Catholic Redemptorists. Catholic bloggers such as Le Van Son and Ta Phong Tan have also been subject to police harassment, arrest and interrogations.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a US government advisory body, has urged the State Department to add Vietnam to its official list of "countries of particular concern". But Vietnam was again excluded when the State Department released its annual religious freedoms report this month--a move the commission described as "a glaring omission".
Now, HRW is calling on US authorities to take a vocal stand on Vietnam's latest arrests.
"Washington needs to publicly acknowledge that Vietnam carries out severe repression against religious dissidents and to press the government to release everyone being held for peacefully expressing the dictates of their conscience rather than the party line," Robertson said.
Photo: The 15 Vietnamese religious activists who were arrested in July, August and September, 2011. Clockwise from upper left: Tran Vu Anh Binh, Ta Phong Tan, Tran Minh Nhat, Thai Van Dung, Ho Van Oanh, Nguyen Van Duyet, Nguyen Xuan Anh, Nong Hung Anh, Le Van Son, Chu Manh Son, Tran Huu Duc, Dau Van Duong, Ho Duc Hoa, Dang Xuan Dieu and Nguyen Van Oai
Credit: Thanh Nien Cong Giao