U.S. Closely Monitors Progress of Religious Freedom in Vietnam

The U.S. Congress will monitor Vietnam’s progress in religious freedom to ensure the fulfillment of its pledges, a U.S. lawmaker told a small group of journalist in Hanoi, Vietnam last week.

“The last thing we want is cosmetic changes,” Congressman Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) said according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“We’re looking for meaningful sustained, tangible progress. We are in a scrutiny phase now.”

Smith arrived in Hanoi on Dec. 1 for a four-day congressional trip to discuss the releasing of more information on unresolved missing in action (MIA) cases, human rights, and religious freedom issues among other topics. During his stay, the New Jersey lawmaker met various religious leaders including leaders of the protestant Evangelical Church, Catholic cardinals, and a senior member of the dissident Buddhist Church in Vietnam (UBCV).

Last month, Vietnam was included in the list of “countries of particular concern” (CPC) for religious freedom violations, despite the statement made by the U.S. State Department last May that said the Southeast Asia country had begun to ease religious restrictions as part of “a bilateral accord made public ahead of the first visit by a Vietnamese prime minister to Washington since 1975,” reported AFP.

Smith supports the decision to keep Vietnam on the CPC list, saying the communist country needs to transform its intention into concrete actions, particularly to stop forced renunciation of faith and making registration for churches easier.

Early last month, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom – the nation’s oldest human rights group in America – released photographs of Christian Hmongs who were beaten with electric batons by Vietnamese police forcing them to renounce their faith.

"Although we do not really have illusions on the possible impact of the visit on Chris Smith's preconceived ideas, nonetheless in a spirit of openness (...), we are prepared to engage in candid and constructive dialogue" with him and all U.S. lawmakers, said the vice-chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Vietnam’s National Assembly, after noting to the official Vietnam News Agency that Smith had not been invited to visit by the Vietnamese parliament.

"Let us hope that Mr. Chris Smith's visit this time will make a contribution, no matter how small, to the advancement of the Vietnam-U.S. relationship," she added.