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 CNS Story:

USCIRF-VIETNAM Aug-26-2008 (390 words) xxxi

US watchdog group expresses concern over religious freedom in Vietnam

By Salesian Father Anthony Lobo
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A U.S. watchdog group released a report expressing concern over persistent religious freedom violations in Vietnam.

Religious freedom "in Vietnam continues to be mixed, with improvements for some religious communities but not for others, progress in some provinces but not in others, reforms of laws at the national level that are not fully implemented or are ignored at the local level, and still too many abuses of and restrictions on religious freedom affecting most of Vietnam's diverse religious communities," said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in a 32-page report released Aug. 25.

The report includes findings from the commission's 2007 trip to Vietnam. The commission is an independent, bipartisan federal agency mandated by Congress to review international religious freedom and recommend to the U.S. secretary of state which countries should be designated as "countries of particular concern" for their engagement in or tolerance of systemic and egregious violations of religious freedom.

"The U.S. government still needs to press Vietnam's leaders to make immediate improvements to end religious freedom abuses, ease restrictions and release prisoners," said Felice Gaer, a commissioner, in an Aug. 25 press release on the report.

"Improved conditions for some only emphasize the inexcusability of ongoing abuses endured by others," said Gaer. "The State Department should not diminish its categorization of Vietnam as a severe violator until the Vietnamese government demonstrates a countrywide, nondiscriminatory commitment to religious freedom and human rights for all."

From 2004 to 2006, Vietnam was categorized as a country "of particular concern." However, it was removed from the list in 2006 just before U.S. President George W. Bush visited the country for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

In its August report, the commission urged the State Department to place Vietnam back in that category.

In May, the commission's annual report said Vietnam's religious communities, including Catholics, face ongoing and serious problems because the reforms meant to improve the situation are inconsistent and vary throughout the country.

Vietnamese Catholics, for example, have reported that the government "has gradually eased its oversight over the selection and ordination of priests," said the report. But local authorities still must approve students before they enroll in a seminary and again before they are ordained, it said.


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