Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Religious policy improving?

An impending U.S. decision on whether to impose sanctions on Vietnam over its religious policy appears to have already sparked significant changes in the government's religious policy, reports Didier Lauras of Agence France Presse. These include:

- The Tet amnesty to two prominent religious prisoners -- Catholic priest Fr. Nguyen Van Ly and Buddhist monk Thich Thien Minh -- both of whom has been serving long prison terms for their religious-based dissent.

- Instructions issued earlier this month (see entry below) by PM Pham Van Khai promising religious freedom to ethnic minority Christians, provided they renounce FULRO. The directive prohibits local authorities from suppressing religious practices, and indicates that Protestants can organize services in their homes, previously forbidden by the regime. The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom has adopted a wait-and-see attitude, stating that, as with previous directives, the new instructions are vaguely worded and open to interpretation by local authorities.

In another development, a Vietnam press spokesman denounced as "fabricated" claims by the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) that leading Buddhist monks are suppressed and under increased surveillance. However, the spokesman also noted that the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which these monks lead, no longer exists legally. The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha -- created under government auspices in 1981 -- is the only approved Buddhist organization in the country (aside from the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai). Most recently IBIB reports UBCV deputy leader Thich Quang Do and other monks were prevented from visiting UBCV patriarch Thich Huyen Quang at his residence in Binh Dinh province. (Agence France Presse Feb. 18, Deutsche Presse-Agentur Feb. 18, IBIB press release Feb. 16).


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