was accused of "serious violations" of religious freedom
by a UN expert on Thursday, despite the communist country making some progress on easing tight state control of matters of faith. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom
of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said his 10-day visit had been "unfortunately interrupted" by police and security agents. Bielefeldt said he was "closely monitored" by police and security agents and not able to speak freely to people, in breach of the conditions of his visit. While stressing that he had not made a comprehensive assessment of individual cases, he said "there are serious violations of freedom
belief taking place in this country". Witnesses had told him of "concrete violations... including repeated summons by police, harassment, house arrest, imprisonment, destruction of houses of worship, vandalism, beatings".
But he also noted positive developments, adding that the "space for practice (of religions) has been cautiously widened". Vietnam
's Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters the Vietnamese government "did everything in its capacity... to meet demands of the delegation during his visit to Vietnam
". All religious
activity remains under state control but the government says it respects the freedom
of belief and religion. Religious
practices were tightly-controlled for decades by the communist regime but restrictions were gradually lifted after the 'doi moi' economic reforms opened up the country in the 1990s. According to the Vietnam
's national committee for religious
affairs, nearly a third of the population considers themselves as religious
, equivalent to some 24 million out of a population of some 90 million. Vietnam
officially has 13 religions, including Buddhism, Islam and Catholicism. Land rights are a major bone of contention as officials began seizing property from churches decades ago when the communists took power in what was then North Vietnam
. Bielefeldt said he had heard of land disputes throughout his trip and said it appeared hard for complainants to access justice. Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch said Vietnam
has sought to "hide alternative narratives from the special rapporteur by actively obstructing religious freedom
advocates from meeting with him". "Hanoi is exposing in a back-handed way just how bad their record is in violating freedom of religion and belief," he added. AFP
Support UCA News...
As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.
That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.
Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.
UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.
We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.
Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...