.- At an August 18 hearing in Washington D.C., Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) condemned the human rights violations of Catholics in Vietnam, calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to âpostpone indefinitely taking U.S.-Vietnam relations to the 'next level' until the Government of Vietnam can prove that they too are concerned about and willing to stop rampant abuse in their country.â
A press release announcing the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Aug. 18 noted that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedomâs 2010 Annual Report recommended that the State Department re-title Vietnam as a âcountry of particular concernâ (CPC) on account of the Vietnamese governmentâs repression of religious activities.
Rep. Smith opened his remarks on Wednesday by thanking those in attendance for joining the âemergency session to voice our collective concern for the brutal murders and systematic mistreatment of Catholics in Con Dau.â
âThis past Sunday, August 15, 2010, marked the 80th anniversary of the founding of Con Dau, a Catholic village in the Diocese of Da Nang, Central Vietnam,â he explained. âWhat should have been a joyous occasion has been marred by unspeakable violence.â
âA few months ago during a religious funeral procession, Vietnamese authorities and riot police disrupted that sad and solemn occasion, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, beating mourners with batons and electric rods,â the congressman said. âMore than 100 were injured, dozens were arrested, and several remain in custody and have reportedly been severely beaten and tortured. At least two innocent people have been murdered by the Vietnamese police.â
âThe Vietnamese government justifies this violence, torture and murder because the villagers of Con Dau had previously been ordered, some through coercion, to leave their village, property, church, century-old cemetery, their religious heritage, and to forgo equitable compensation in order to make way for a new 'green' resort.â
âNothing, however, not even governmental orders, grant license for government sanctioned murder and other human rights abuses,â he insisted.
âAs you will hear shortly from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, this is unfortunately not an isolated incident. In fact, according to the 2010 Annual Report, 'property disputes between the government and the Catholic Church continue to lead to harassment, property destruction, and violence, sometimes by 'contract thugs' hired by the government to break up peaceful prayer vigils.'â
âIn recent years,â he added, âthe Vietnamese government has stepped up its persecution of Catholic believers (by) bulldozing churches, dismantling crucifixes, and wrecking havoc on peaceful prayer vigils.
The New Jersey congressman also said that persecution of religious followers âis not limited to the Catholic Church in Vietnam.â
A staff member at the commission's office confirmed to CNA that those who gave testimony at Wednesday's hearing included Ted Van Der Meid, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Tai Nguyen, brother of Nam Nguyen, who died after a police beating; Quang Nguyen, brother of Lieu Nguyen, who escaped to Thailand; Luan Nguyen, sister of Liem & Minh Nguyen, who are still detained and T. Kumar, director of international advocacy, Amnesty International.
âWhile I am eager to listen to the testimony of the witnesses who are here, I am disappointed that the U.S. Department of State declined the invitation to testify,â Rep. Smith said. âIt was just a few weeks ago that Secretary Clinton met with officials in Hanoi and expressed concern over Vietnam's track record of human rights abuse and violations of religious freedom.â
âI call on the Secretary to postpone indefinitely taking U.S.-Vietnam relations to the 'next level' until the Government of Vietnam can prove that they too are concerned about and willing to stop rampant abuse in their country and hold officials accountable for known or reported abuses,â he stressed.
âI also respectfully ask Commissioner Van Der Meid, on behalf of the International Religious Freedom Commission, to visit Vietnam and report back to this commission and to Congress on the situation in Con Dau and the violence and harassment faced by Catholic villagers throughout the country.â