HILL-VIETNAM Jun-5-2013 (670 words) xxxn
Vietnam’s repression of human rights raised in Hill visits, hearing
By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Hundreds of Vietnamese-Americans, as well as Vietnamese immigrants and visitors, spread out across Capitol Hill June 4 urging members of Congress to pay attention to ongoing, even worsening, repression in their home country.
In a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that deals with human rights, witnesses detailed what a former member of Congress called “continuing repression” in the homeland he left as a child.
Former U.S. Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana, a one-term Republican representative from New Orleans who was the first Vietnamese immigrant in Congress, detailed problems including the Vietnamese government’s appropriation of property from religious communities.
The former Jesuit seminarian asked Congress to “demand the administration stop all assistance to Vietnam”; not ratify trade agreements until improvements occur and U.S. citizens are compensated for land expropriations; and that it pass the Vietnam Human Rights Act and the Vietnam Sanctions Act.
Cao and another witness, Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director of an organization called Boat People SOS, both referred to the situation of Con Dau Catholic Parish in the city of Da Nang as an example.
The government of Vietnam “has aggressively expropriated land from religious communities,” including from Catholics and Protestants among various ethnic groups and the Khmer Krom Buddhists, Cao said. Con Dau “illustrates the Vietnamese government’s policy of wiping out an entire all-Catholic parish through expropriation of farmland, cemetery plots, and residential homes of parishioners.
Cao said that on May 4, 2010, “the authorities even prohibited the burial of a 93-year-old parishioner in the parish’s cemetery. To make their act even more heinous, as parishioners proceeded with the funeral, the police attacked them brutally, causing injuries to over 100 parishioners including the elderly and children. The police arrested 62 people and tortured them for days during detention, killing one detainee.”
Thang said many U.S. citizens own land within the 135-year-old parish, and that “right at this moment, government workers escorted by the police are about to bulldoze the ancestral home that belong to Vietnamese Americans present in the audience.”
Father Anthony Tam Pham, director of Interfaith Dialogue of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, was among those meeting with members of Congress to lobby on Vietnamese concerns.
He told Catholic News Service that if anything, religious and human rights repression in Vietnam has become more of a problem recently, played out in the government’s takeover of land owned by faith groups and their members, as well as by arrests and prison sentences for people who are religiously active or who speak out about human rights.
Father Pham said two university students who passed out leaflets on human rights were recently sentenced to six- and eight-year prison terms.
He said that grass-roots democracy movements such as the Arab Spring uprisings has made the Vietnamese government react harshly against any sign of similar developments.
Although the government “makes a show” of an occasional example of openness to religion such as a large faith gathering, those events are little more than theatrical, Father Pham said.
Tinh Tien Trinh, of the Vietnamese Catholic ministry of the same archdiocese, added that the government has recently taken to destroying religious statues.
In the hearing, subcommittee chairman Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., touched on a range of issues, including his objection to the State Department’s 2006 decision to remove Vietnam from its list of “countries of particular concern,” which initiates an elevated level of steps the government can take to press for religious liberty.
“Vietnam continues to be among the worst violators of religious freedom in the world,” Smith said, citing the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s observation that: “the government of Vietnam continues to control all religious communities, restrict and penalize independent religious practice severely, and repress individuals and groups viewed as challenging its authority.”
Instead, Smith said, “the State Department’s description of the state of religious freedom in Vietnam is a whitewash, and an extreme disservice to the truth about the religious persecution that is prevalent in that country.”