President Bush will meet with Vietnam’s prime minister this week in Washington, and it is being reported that the White House is committed to bringing up the subjects of human rights and religious persecution.
Vietnam has a history of persecuting Christians involved in the underground movement. Todd Nettleton, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, says although the situation has improved over a five- to ten-year period, Vietnam still has a long way to go.
“… [T]hey are still not at the level of saying to their people [they] can worship God how [they] want to … without the interference of Communist officials …,” he notes. “They have worked very diligently to try to present the world a picture of more openness and more freedom of religion — but the reality is that thousands of Christians in Vietnam don’t have the freedom to assemble together ….”
Judith Ingram of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also agrees that Vietnam has improved. “But we think really it’s too soon to determine whether the Vietnamese government is truly committed to respecting religious freedom instead of maintaining control of its religious communities,” she contends.
However, human rights groups and some members of Congress suggest Vietnam has increased repression of political activists and religious leaders. And the Commission on International Religious Freedom is hopeful Vietnam will be under the watchful eye of the State Department.
“We believe strongly,” notes Ingram, “that Vietnam should continue to be on the list of ‘countries of particular concern’ because of persistent and severe religious freedom restrictions targeting some ethnic minorities, Protestants, Buddhists, Vietnamese Mennonites … and monks and nuns associated with the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.”
She points out that one of the purposes of establishing positive trade ties with Vietnam was to help develop a dialogue on issues such as religious persecution.