(VNRN) – Religious leaders and activists, testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress on March 26, told of numerous attempts by the Vietnamese government to persecute the communities of faith that do not accept government controls.
The hearing, streamed live on the Internet and chaired by Congressman Frank Wolf, led with the testimony of Eric P. Schwartz, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, who told the commission that the “Vietnamese government exerts control over religious activities through law and administrative oversight, severely restricts independent religious practice, and represses individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority.”
Vietnam has “a specialized religious police force,” Schwartz testified, and uses “vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities and has sought to stop the growth of the Protestant and Catholic religions among ethnic minorities.”
Schwartz further brought up the suppression faced by Khmer Buddhists in the southern province of Soc Trang, many of whom were sentenced to long prison terms just in the last six months.
Specially appearing before the commission are two religious leaders who spoke from Vietnam via video, Catholic priest the Rev. Phan Van Loi (Phan Văn Lợi) and Cao Dai Sub-Dignitary Nguyen Bach Phung (Nguyễn Bách Phụng, pictured). “Sub-dignitary” is a clergy designation in the Cao Dai religion, roughly equivalent to a Christian minister or priest.
Rev. Loi testified that, 33 years after his consecration as a priest, he is “still unable to function like a priest” because the government has been holding him in detention for his campaigning for religious freedom.
In Vietnam, civil society is forming, he said, including “the Catholic Church and organizations within the church.” However, the government is blocking the development of civil society, using administrative control devices.
Sub-dignitary Bach Phung told the panel that the government has “suppressed, disbanded and obliterated independent faiths.” She called for the government to “restore the sovereignty and property as well as human rights for independent religions to practice their beliefs.”
Representing the North Carolina-based Montagnard Human Rights Organization, the group’s Executive Director Rong Nay told the panel that the oppression by the Vietnamese government is “systematic” and includes forcing Protestants ethnic minorities to renounce their faith.
“Any changes has been in name only,” Nay said, referring to the religious and human rights of Vietnam.
Also testifying is the Director of Policy Advocacy of the Hmong National Development, Yunie Hong, who testified to numerous instances of discrimination and mistreatment of the Hmong minority people of Vietnam, especially in the northern part of the country. Hong specifically talked about the trials against Hmong Christians that has already resulted in three people convicted under Article 258 for “abusing freedoms” and a fourth trial to resume next week.
The hearing room was packed with Vietnamese-Americans who had come to the Capitol for a two-day Vietnam Advocacy event, organized by BPSOS, a community service and advocacy group based in Virginia. The event has drawn more than 600 people to Washington DC, BPSOS said, who will knock on the doors of their representatives seeking support for human rights in Vietnam.
“Our goal is to push back the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” BPSOS Executive Director Thang Dinh Nguyen told the RFA Vietnamese Service. TPP is a proposed Pacific basin free trade agreement. “Vietnam must demonstrate by specific concessions on human rights beforehand.”