US criticises Vietnam on religious freedom

John Kerry presented the annual report on religious freedom around the world. Photo courtesy EPA

John Kerry presented the annual report on religious freedom around the world. Photo courtesy EPA

The United States has highlighted continuing restrictions on religious freedom in Vietnam, and abuses against practitioners, in its annual report on religious freedom around the world.

The State Department report said that unregistered religious groups in Vietnam were subjected to various forms of government harassment, including assault, short-term detentions and prosecutions.

It said religious groups also reported state monitoring of their activities, restrictions on travel and denial of official status.

The report said most complaints related to harassment by local rather than central authorities, and that systematic efforts were made to suppress the activities of groups that resisted close government supervision.

The US report said the violations continued despite a guarantee of religious freedom in the Vietnamese constitution.

It said groups thought to be engaging in political activity were singled out for the harshest treatment.

Many of the worst abuses were reported in the Central and Northwest Highlands.

The Vietnamese government was quick to reject the allegations, saying the report contained errors and was not objective.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Le Hai Binh, said Vietnamese citizens’ rights to freedom of religions and belief were enshrined in the constitution and ensured in practice.

The State Department report cited more than twenty specific cases in which it said unregistered groups were targeted by the authorities.

In one case, more than 70 Mennonite pastors and students were arrested, beaten and held for a day after their bible class in the southern province of Binh Duong was raided in June.

Another case involved an assault on members of an unregistered Cao Dai group in Tay Ninh province.

They said they were harassed by local officials and hired civilians while attending a ritual in August.

The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, has called for continued improvements in religious freedom during his recent meetings with Vietnamese leaders.

The US embassy has also urged the government to allow all religious groups to operate – including the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Protestant house churches, and independent Hoa Hao and Cao Dai groups.

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Tom Malinowski, discussed concerns about religious freedom with government officials in the annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue.

On recent visits to Vietnam, he advocated for improvements to freedom of religion in law and practice.