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VIETNAM: Stop violent oppression of peaceful religious vigils

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vietnam_-_preghiere_di_protesta.jpgFORUM-ASIA expressed its grave concerns over the recent harassments and interruptions by the Vietnamese government on peaceful religious vigils in Hanoi.

A series of religious vigils over rights to church property were held since August 2008 in Nunciature and the Thai Ha Church in Hanoi. The government reacted with electric batons and tear gas.

According to various news reports, many private properties were seized under the Communist party regime between 1953 and 1956 in Vietnam.

During this period, private properties including Catholic Church properties were forcibly seized under the land management and socialist land reform policies.

The government is currently planning to transform former church sites into a public park and library. As a result, since 15 August 2008, Catholics in Hanoi have continuously held prayer vigils at the church located in Thai Ha parish, pressing their claims to the properties that once belonged to the church.

Under Vietnamese law, however, prayer is only allowed inside the church and under authorisation of the government.

Therefore, when Catholics held peaceful vigils at the disputed site of the Thai Ha church, the government defined these as illegal religious activities and used tear gas and electric batons to disperse them, wounding at least three.

On 29 August, police even detained three parishioners after congregation, which called for the release of several other followers who had been arrested earlier on the same day.

On 19 September, the government detained and beat an American reporter, Ben Stocking, for photographing the scene. He was released after two hours with wounds in his head.

Also, continuous threats are given to Hanoi Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet under the charge of defending these religious vigils.

FORUM-ASIA calls on the Vietnamese government to stop clamping down on peaceful assembly and to protect the freedom of expression of its people in accordance with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which was ratified by Vietnam in 1982.

Vietnam adopted the ICCPR in 1982 and is a current member of the UN Security Council. It, therefore, has obligations to respect international human rights standards.

At the 2002 concluding observations by the Human Rights Committee on Vietnam (CCPR/CO/75/VNM), the Committee expressed its concerns on freedom of expression and rights to assembly in Vietnam, which are clearly stipulated in the ICCPR article 19 and 25 respectively.

In regards to freedom of expression, the Committee made it clear that the government should “take all necessary measures to put an end to direct and indirect restrictions on freedom of expression”.

The Committee also stated its concerns about the restrictions on public meetings and demonstrations while recommending the government to accede to the optional protocol of the ICCPR.

FORUM-ASIA is disappointed that despite the country’s ratification of the ICCPR, there has been no progress in protecting these rights in Vietnam after recommendations were given six years ago.

FORUM-ASIA urges the Vietnamese government to protect the rights of its citizens as enshrined in the ICCPR and stop disrupting peaceful assembly by religious groups.

Furthermore, we strongly call for the government to release all the detainees and stop criminalising them.

The government should take all necessary steps not to repeat this violent attack on its citizens who wish to exercise their freedom of expression and right to assembly.

The Vitenamese government must respect its commitment to international society by respecting these basic rights.

For more information, please contact:

Yap Swee Seng, Acting Executive Director, +60 12201 5272, email: [email protected];

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, East Asia Programme Manager, +66 87991 4451, email: [email protected]