From World Watch Monitor
Today as Vietnam celebrates 40 years since the end of what is commonly known elsewhere as the “Vietnam War,” its government faces accusations of failing to ensure the rights of its citizens to religious freedom.
“In Vietnam, we still have a government that shows two faces – the friendly and welcoming face on one side and the oppressive face on the other.”
These words, attributed by Open Doors to a Vietnamese Christian whose name was withheld, provide an insight into a country which, on the one hand, is reportedly close to making positive reforms to its laws on religious practice, but on the other is accused by the UN of “gross violation” of religious freedom “in the face of constant surveillance, intimidation, harassment and persecution.”
Where Vietnam is concerned, religious freedom is rarely black and white.
Consider the “cautious optimism” of Nigel Cory, a researcher at The Center for Strategic & International Studies, who suggests “the space for religious freedom (in Vietnam) seems to be growing.”
Cory says the appointment by Pope Francis of a Vietnamese archbishop, Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon, as a new cardinal was a “boon to the Catholic community in Vietnam.” He also references the formal “restarting” of 115 new Catholic and Protestant churches in 2013, up from 20 in 2012 and five in 20111, and Vietnam’s approval in 2014 of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, seems to agree in part, when, in his January report, he acknowledges “positive development.” However, his other comments are less complimentary.
Of his visit to the country in July 2014, Bielefeldt says “some individuals whom I wanted to meet with had been either under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police. Even those who successfully met with me were not free from a certain degree of police surveillance or questioning.
“Moreover, I was closely monitored … by undeclared ‘security or police agents, while the privacy and confidentiality of some meetings could have been compromised. All these incidents are in clear violation of the terms of reference of any country visit.”
Or take Open Doors’ analyst Thomas Müller’s assessment: “Though it is not clear why the government steps up its actions against the Christian minority right now, the spike in attacks is remarkable – attacks across all types of Christianity.”
These hardly sound like reasons for optimism.
“The authorities beat up the Christians, targeting their internal organs. One believer was so severely beaten that her face was bloodied and she almost became deaf.”
Müller references the “more than 70 Montagnard Christians from the Central Highlands” who “fled to Cambodia” only for “most of them to be sent back to Vietnam and handed over to the authorities.”
Vietnam is ranked No. 16 on Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Christy Lynn Wilson at 770-401-9842.