UN expert's report hits at Vietnam's dismal state of religious freedom

(Photo: REUTERS / Kham)Catholics hold candles and posters with the image of lawyer Le Quoc Quan during a mass prayer for Quan at Thai Ha church in Hanoi February 16, 2014. Participants in the mass prayer also called for justice for Quan, a political dissident and democracy activist, ahead of his appeal trial which will be happened on February 18, his brother Le Quoc Quyet said. The Hanoi's People Court sentenced Quan, a political dissident and pro-democracy activist, to 30 months in jail for tax evasion after a half-day trial on October 2, 2013. The banner reads: Free for Le Quoc Quan.

Despite improving relations with the Holy See, Vietnam remains restrictive in terms of religious freedom for some Christian and Muslim minorities, a report presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council has found.

U.N. special rapporteur on religious freedom Heiner Bielefeldt cited on March 10 how most faith-based activities have remained subject to strict bureaucracy by the communist government there.

"Whereas religious life and religious diversity are a reality in Vietnam today, autonomy and activities of independent religious or belief communities - that is, unrecognized communities - remain restricted and unsafe," independent expert Bielefeldt reported to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He noted that "the rights to freedom of religion or belief of such communities [are] grossly violated in the face of constant surveillance, intimidation, harassment and persecution." Bielefeldt reported to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Christian Montagnards and Cham Muslims were among the minority peoples who suffered the worst persecution at the hands of the government, the special envoy observed.

Montagnards have attempted to leave Vietnam to seek refuge in Cambodia, but authorities there have sent back those who sought asylum.

The report identified the root of the problem as the government's insistence to exercise control over organized religions through State bodies.

Such measure created tension between sanctioned faiths and those who wanted to maintain independence from State control, according to the report.

Responding to the report, Vietnam lamented how the report overlooked its efforts to promote religious freedom.

"While there was room for further improvement, Vietnam believed that efforts and achievements in the promotion of freedom or religion or belief should have been reflected in the report in an objective and comprehensive manner," the Vietnamese government said.

It described religious life in the country as "vibrant," saying 95 percent of its population practiced a faith or belief. But the U.N. expert's report disputed the claim, stating that only 24 million of the country's 90-million population followed a recognized religion.

"Serious incidents of intimidation and cases of a blatant breach of the principle of confidentiality unfortunately led to an incomplete country visit to Viet Nam," said the report at its conclusion.

Copyright © 2015 Ecumenical News