HANOI — Vietnamese democracy and human rights activists accused the government yesterday of stepping up harassment in an effort to silence them ahead of President Bush’s visit and a high-profile economic summit this week.
The activists, some of whom are under house arrest, praised a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday 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.
“The PNTR status must come with a condition that the government respect human rights for our own people,” said Pham Hong Son, an activist 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 Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and posted separately on the Internet. His claim could not be independently verified because the government does not comment on dissident cases.
The government accuses democracy activists of plotting to destabilize the country and to shame it before the 21 heads of state expected at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this weekend.
The Foreign Ministry called Monday’s House vote “very regretful, not suitable, and not serving the mutual interest and wishes of the 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 single vote. The bill is not expected to come back for another vote before the 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.
On the same day as the vote, a Vietnamese-American was released from prison and allowed to return to the United States, and Vietnam was removed from a list of countries that severely restrict religious freedoms.
John V. Hanford III, the State Department’s at-large ambassador for international religious freedom, denied Monday 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.
He said Hanoi had clarified laws on religious policy; greatly curbed the practice of “forced renunciations” of religious belief; released dozens of Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant and Hoa Hao religious prisoners; allowed previously outlawed groups and denominations to register and practice their faith, including 39 new congregations in Ho Chi Minh City alone in the past month; and permitted greater freedom for Protestant and Catholic congregations, including a sharp increase in the number of new Vietnamese priests and ministers.
Mr. Hanford acknowledged that “important work remains to be done,” especially in more remote regions of the country. Protestant Montagnard groups from the central highlands have complained of harsh repression, and even torture and killing of believers by the authorities.
Nevertheless, Mr. Hanford said, “We are hearing from every religious group that we meet with that conditions have improved, that there’s really a change in the attitude.”
However, Vietnamese activists complained of continuing religious repression in an open letter published in Washington yesterday.
“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.”View Entire Story
'Your papers, please' must never be heard in America
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
What does the middle-class conservative think about everything? Find out here.
The “Silver Tsunami” created by aging Baby Boomers is hitting America. Let’s explore how we adjust to it, enjoy it and defy negative expectations about age.
A carefully guided tour through the confusing world of modern bookselling and publishing.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall