Viet­namese ac­tivists cite curbs on dis­sent prior to Bush visit

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Ni­cholas Kralev

HANOI — Viet­namese democ­racy and hu­man rights ac­tivists on Nov. 14 ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of step­ping up ha­rass­ment in an ef­fort to si­lence them ahead of Pres­i­dent Bush’s visit and a high­pro­file eco­nomic sum­mit last week.

The ac­tivists, some of whom are un­der house ar­rest, praised a vote intheU.S.House­ofRep­re­sen­ta­tives on Nov. 13 that de­nied per­ma­nent nor­mal trade re­la­tions (PNTR) sta­tus to Viet­nam and crit­i­cized Viet­nam’s re­moval from the State De­part­ment’s black­list of coun­tries that limit re­li­gious free­dom.

“ThePNTRs­ta­tus­must­come­with a con­di­tion that the gov­ern­ment re­spect hu­man rights for our own peo­ple,”saidPhamHongSon,an­ac­tivist who was de­tained for two years be­gin­ning in 2002 and has been un­der house ar­rest for an­other two.

He said he was de­tained be­cause of an ar­ti­cle on democ­racy that he trans­lated into Viet­namese from the Web­si­te­oftheU.S.Em­bassy­inHanoi and­post­ed­sep­a­rate­ly­on­theIn­ter­net. His­claim­could­not­bein­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied­be­causethe­gov­ern­ment­does not com­ment on dis­si­dent cases.

The gov­ern­ment ac­cused democ­ra­cy­ac­tivist­sof­plot­ting­todesta­bi­lize the­coun­tryand­toshameit­be­fore­the 21 heads of state ex­pected at the an­nual Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) sum­mit over the Nov. 18-19 week­end. The For­eign Min­istry called the House vote “very re­gret­ful, not suit­able, and not serv­ing the­mu­tu­al­in­ter­e­stand­wish­e­softhe peo­ples of the two coun­tries.”

Hu­man rights ad­vo­cates in the House, such as Rep. Christo­pher H. Smith, New Jer­sey Repub­li­can, led op­po­si­tion to the bill, which fell short of a needed two-thirds ma­jor­ity by a sin­glevote.The­bil­lis­no­t­ex­pect­edto come­back­fora­n­oth­er­vote­be­fore­the end of the month.

The deal was part of a flurry of ac­tiv­ity by the two sides, seem­ingly de­signed to clear away ir­ri­tants on the eve of Mr. Bush’s de­par­ture for Viet­nam.

On­the­same­dayas­thevote,aViet­namese-Amer­i­can­was­re­leased­from prison and al­lowed to re­turn to the United States, and Viet­nam was re­moved­fro­ma­l­istof­coun­tri­esthat­severely re­strict re­li­gious free­doms.

John V. Han­ford III, the State De­part­ment’s at-large am­bas­sador for in­ter­na­tional re­li­gious free­dom, de­nied that pol­i­tics or busi­ness played any role in the lat­ter de­ci­sion, say­ing Viet­nam had taken a num­ber of spe­cific steps to get off the list.

He­saidHanoi­had­clar­i­fied­law­son re­li­gious pol­icy; greatly curbed the prac­tice of “forced re­nun­ci­a­tions” of re­li­gious be­lief; re­leased dozens of Bud­dhist, Catholic, Protes­tant and HoaHaore­li­gious­pris­on­ers;al­lowed pre­vi­ously out­lawed groups and de­nom­i­na­tions to reg­is­ter and prac­tice their faith, in­clud­ing 39 new con­gre­ga­tions in Ho Chi Minh City alone in thep­ast­month;and­per­mit­ted­greater free­dom for Protes­tant and Catholic con­gre­ga­tions, in­clud­ing a sharp in­crease in the num­ber of new Viet­namese priests and min­is­ters.

How­ever, Viet­namese ac­tivists com­plained­of­con­tin­u­in­gre­li­gious­re­pres­sion in an open let­ter pub­lished in Wash­ing­ton on Nov. 14.

“The Viet­namese peo­ple do not have free­dom of re­li­gion and wor­ship,” said the writ­ers, a group of en­gi­neers, lawyers, pro­fes­sors and re­li­gious lead­ers grouped un­der the name “A Call For Democ­racy.”

Mr. Son said the de­ci­sion to take Viet­nam off the list was “not good news­forthose­who­care­abouthu­man rights.”

The ac­tivist cited at least three at­tempts by se­cu­rity po­lice this month to warn him against speak­ing with for­eign­er­swhoare­ar­riving­inHanoi for the APEC sum­mit.

David Sands and Sharon Behn in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.

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