FCO Human Rights Report 2015: Not included
FCO Human Rights Report 2014: Most people in Vietnam are able to practise their religion of choice, or none. Freedom of assembly or expression, or political issues, such as land rights, can be a cause of tensions between some religious organisations and the authorities. We had concerns, however, about an increasing number of anecdotal reports of intimidation of religious minorities in rural areas by local authorities.
The invitation by the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, to visit Vietnam in July was a welcome move. He underlined the progress that Vietnam had made to ensure there was space for religious groups to practise, and recognised that the problems that do exist are often linked to other issues. However, intimidation of activists seeking to meet the Special Rapporteur disrupted his visit, and meant that he was unable to complete planned field visits to certain areas to investigate reports on the harassment of ethnic minorities for practising their religion.
British Embassy officials met religious leaders before the Special Rapporteur’s visit to discuss problems in rural areas; they will continue to meet a broad section of religious groups as part of their wider human rights work.
FCO Human Rights Report 2013: There is evidence to suggest that the Vietnamese government is allowing more space for religious expression, but taking a much harder line where members of religious groups are believed to be involved in political movements or protests.
Most Vietnamese are able to practise the religion of their choosing and many prominent ministers, including the Prime Minister, are openly Buddhist. Vietnam has also increased the number of churches and other places of worship that it has approved for use. The UK has been active in promoting religious freedom and belief in Vietnam. Members of the British Embassy in Hanoi met Venerable Thich Quang Do of the Unite Buddhist Church (a highprofile priest who is under house arrest as a longstanding campaigner for greater freedoms) and a group of Catholic protesters from Nghe An province to discuss issues of religious freedom in the autumn.
In January, 14 Catholic activists, including students, bloggers, and citizen journalists, were accused of having ties to the banned Viet Tan network and were convicted for subversion. The trial, which was closed, resulted in sentences ranging from 3-13 years in prison, with one activist given a suspended sentence. At appeal, the sentences of three activists were reduced by 6-12 months and, in one case, Paulus Le Van Son, from 13 years to four years. The UK, along with other diplomatic missions, met family members of the 14 activists to receive a petition calling for their release; we also supported the EU statement calling on the Vietnamese to uphold the fundamental right of freedom of expression.
In September, police and Catholic protestors clashed in Nghe An province, resulting in a number of injuries. Protestors claimed that the police used excessive force during an organised demonstration calling for the release of two Catholic youths (jailed for disturbing the public order). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a public statement and in meetings with EU member states, denied that the force used was excessive. We welcomed the more transparent government approach in the follow-up to these events, but continue to have concerns that groups critical of government activities, including religious groups, continue to come under undue pressure.
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