CENTER FOR VIETNAM STUDIES

259 Meridian Avenue, #7

San Jose, California

Dr. Nguyên van Canh, Director

E-mail: vietresearch@yahoo.com

April 6, 2007

President George W. Bush

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Fax: 202 456-2461

E-mail: comments@whitehouse.gov

RE:    Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s freedom of religion

Dear President Bush:

On March 30, 2007, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) prosecuted Father Nguyen van Ly for spreading propaganda against its totalitarian regime. He was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment by a Hue tribunal court. During the trial, a plainclothes security agent standing behind him used his right hand to seal off father Ly’s mouth, forbidding him to speak out.

After the communists took South Vietnam by military means, the Catholic Church as well as others were not allowed to teach bibles in schools. Father Ly resisted it. In January 1983, the local authorities expulsed him from the church where he served, and forced him to return to laity and live with his parents in Dong Nai province in the South. Father Ly denounced the scheme of religious persecutions. In May, 83  a large  security force  came and took him away. His whereabouts were not known until Dec. 83 he was brought in for a trial for a number of offenses and he was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment and 4 years under probation. He then was detained in Thanh Cam concentration camp, Central Vietnam, and Ba Sao in the North. In July 1992, he was released from concentration camps and sent to the Hue diocese where he was forbidden to conduct masses, to teach Bible.

In 1994, he released a 10 point statement regarding the status of freedom of  religion in Vietnam. In 1995, he was again detained in the Nguyet Bieu parish. In 2000, he raised his voice asking the communist government to return to the Nguyet Bieu church a parcel of land that the local authorities took and planned to build a market place and local party offices on the lot. On Feb. 13, 2001, he was asked by Elliot Abram, President of the US Commission on International Freedom of Religion to testify before the Commission on Freedom of Religion.  Not being allowed to go to the US, he merely sent in a written testimony to the Commission. Because of that, the authorities put pressure on the Bishop of Hue Diocese to move him out of the Nguyet Bieu.. By order No 4102/QDUB dated Feb.26, 2001, the Deputy Head of the Thua Thien province Committee placed him under house arrest at An Truyen parish for two years. Congresswoman Joe Lofgren, chairperson of the House Committee on Human Rights asked him to testify on Human Rights violations. He sent in a report and Paster Kieu Tuan Nam in San Jose read it on his behalf in a hearing on 16 May 2001.  Because of this again, the communist authorities surrounded the An Truyen parish, took him away. Father Ly was then prosecuted and sentenced for 15 years of imprisonment.  He was sent once more time to the Ba Sao concentration camp in the North. Finally, he was released in 2005 and kept in the Hue Diocese. On the New Year eve ( Feb.17, 07), some 60 police surrounded the Diocese, searched his room, and seized 8 computers, 9 cell phones, some 147  SIM cards and  200 kg of documents. And the same time, he was carried to the Ben Cui church some 23 kilometers from Hue and he was isolated there. On March 30, he was tried for the offenses at the Hue tribunal court. Regarding the proceeding, not a minimum safeguard for the accused was available. Not a single lawyer was present. He was forcibly escorted by two policemen into the hearing room. He was really dragged in. During the trial, two policemen stood by his sides.  And a third in plainclothes stood behind.  When the accused was about to open his mouth to speak, apparently for his defense, the plainclothes policeman sealed off his mouth forcibly.  Then the court rendered the sentence.  It is outraged.

This is an evidence of what is really going on under the SRV. Moreover, practically, the top religious leaders of different religions have been long under house arrest for decades: They are the Most Reverends Huyen Quang and Quang Do of the Unified Buddhist Church, President Le Quang Liem of the Hoa Hao, and Pastors Nguyen cong Chinh and Nguyen Hong Quang of the Protestant Church.  Mennonites in Central Vietnam in particular have been severely repressed.  Many other prisoners of conscience are not included in this letter.

In the middle of 2006, an assistant to Secretary Condi Rice, after a visit to Vietnam to conduct an investigation of religious persecutions declared that “human rights in Vietnam have been improved”.  Then, a few months later, SRV’s name was removed from the CPC list.  Probably, some token concessions or promises were made by the communist leaders in May 2005 regarding freedom of religion.  This was done before you as a president of the USA came to the Nov. 06 APEC meeting.  Besides, your administration was lobbying aggressively the US congress to pass the PNTR for them, and also allowing them to get admission to the WTO without any conditions to be met. All these constitute a wrong message to the communists that you have agreed to what they have been doing and as a consequence serious violations of human rights continue to exist.

We can say that this is done at the expenses of the Vietnamese oppressed people who unfortunately still  believe in you and look to you for freedom and democracy as you promised when you first moved in the White House over 6 years ago.

We call upon you to reconsider your position on the Vietnam matter.  We would urge you to place SRV back on the CPC list, and also at the same time to formulate a positive and aggressive policy to improve the human rights situation there.

We also urge you to have the assistant to the Secretary of State to submit a report as to why he told lies to the public, and finally, demand that Father Ly and all other prisoners of conscience be released immediately and unconditionally from prisons.  Now SRV has joined WTO with your help, it has a duty to behave as a civilized member of the world organization.

We highly appreciate your devotion to your program of democratization all over the world.

Sincerely yours

Nguyên van Canh

Attachment:  Father Ly’s photos at trial

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