UN experts urge Viet Nam to stop persecution and torture of religious leaders

(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.

GENEVA - U.N human rights experts have called on Viet Nam to stop persecuting and torturing Tran Thi Hong, who has been repeatedly arrested for informing the international community of human rights violations against her husband, who is in prison for peaceful religious activities.

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, also urged the Vietnamese authorities to put an end to all persecution and harassment.

This includes criminalization, against religious leaders and human rights defenders, women human rights defenders and members of their families, the statement released June 3.

Tran, spouse of imprisoned Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, was initially arrested on April 14, 2016.

She was tortured and warned to stop her activities promoting freedom of religion.

Since then, Tran Thi Hong has been repeatedly arrested and harassed by the authorities, who are trying to force her to 'cooperate' with the government.

"We are concerned that the repeated arrests and the continuing detention of Ms. Tran resulted from her peaceful human rights work and exercise of her fundamental rights, which constitutes arbitrary detention," the experts said calling for her unconditional release.

During his May visit to Vietnam, U.S. President Barack Obama defended the concept of universal human rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly in a speech made in Hanoi.

"The United States does not seek to impose our form of government on Vietnam," he said. "The rights I speak of I believe are not American values; I think they're universal values written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

"When there is freedom of religion, it not only allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions, but it allows faith groups to serve their communities through schools and hospitals, and care for the poor and the vulnerable," he noted, Catholic Culture reported.

Tran's husband has been in prison since 2011 for his religious activities as director of the Vietnam-U.S. Lutheran Alliance Church, which is considered as 'anti-Government' and 'anti-communist' by the authorities.

In prison, he has been subjected to torture and deprived of contact with his family.

"The Vietnamese Government has the obligation to respect the right of religious communities to organize themselves as independent communities and to appoint their own leaders," said Special Rapporteur Bielefeldt.

"The severe beating, by authorities who did not identify themselves, amounts to torture and must be investigated and those responsible held accountable, in accordance with Viet Nam's international human rights obligations," Mr. Méndez, added.

The UN Special Rapporteurs concluded that "Viet Nam should immediately and unconditionally release Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and Ms. Tran Thi Hong, as well as all persons detained for their legitimate activities in the defence of human rights."

The human rights experts' appeal has also been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović; and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

On April 26, the International Commission of Jurists and 32 other human rights groups called on the Vietnamese authorities to carry out a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation into allegations that Tran Thi Hong, who is a member of the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, tortured

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