Vietnam PM Meets Bush, Urged for Religious Freedom

As President George W. Bush met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai in Washington on Tuesday, an official U.S. commission on religious freedom called for transparency in recent secretive dealings with the southeast Asian nation.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is calling on the U.S. government to make public a secret "landmark agreement" first announced in May of this year that would allow people to worship freely in Vietnam, saying that public knowledge is necessary if there is to be any accountability for the results.

The request coincided with the visit by the Vietnamese Prime Minister, who became the highest ranking official to visit the country since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975. Hundreds of Vietnam veterans and pro-democracy protesters rallied outside the White House as Khai met with the President.

Vietnam is listed as a "country of particular concern" (CPC) by the U.S. government for its human rights violations. During their meeting, the President privately pushed for Khai to do more to promote human rights and religious freedom, according to Newsday.

The CPC status for Vietnam came because of human rights violations, including religious freedom violations which took in the Central Highlands and northwest provinces of the nation.

In the last six months the Vietnamese government has made gestures that it is working to alleviate freedom concerns, including a directive to stop forcing Protestants to recant their faith.

Nina Shea, Vice Chair of the USCIRF noted that while promises of improvement are important, it doesn't mean that anything tangible is taking place.

"Until there is independent monitoring, any claims of progress on religious freedom should be viewed with skepticism," she said.

"Religious prisoners remain behind bars, churches remain closed, and restrictions and harassment on all of Vietnam’s diverse religious communities continues. Moreover, troubling reports continue to arrive of new arrests and harassment of religious and ethnic minorities in Vietnam, despite promises that the new laws would improve religious freedom conditions," she said.

Under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), a CPC could avoid sanctions if it is taking specific steps toward improving religious freedom.