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US House Criticizes Vietnam for Human Rights Violations - 2004-05-11

Vietnam has come under sharp criticism in the U.S. House of Representatives during debate over resolutions on human rights and religious freedom in that country.

One of the resolutions marks the 10th anniversary of Vietnam Human Rights Day, while another calls on the government in Hanoi to immediately release a Roman Catholic priest jailed for speaking out about restrictions on religious freedom in Vietnam.

Tom Davis, Republican chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, says despite expanding diplomatic and economic relations between the United States and Vietnam, attention needs to be drawn to ongoing rights violations.

Mr. Davis explained the purpose of House Resolution 613, which also recognizes the efforts of one of the most outspoken of Vietnamese dissidents, Doctor Nguyen Dan Que.

?Dr. Que is one of the most vocal advocates for freedom, democracy and human rights in Vietnam,? he said. ?Since 1975, Dr. Que has refused to leave Vietnam and he has turned down an offer to resettle in the United States or to live in exile. He has consciously chosen to stay in Vietnam, to speak out and defend human dignity and the rights of all Vietnamese people. He is a profile of courage.?

Imprisoned off and on since the late 1970's for his human rights activities, Nguyen Dan Que was last arrested in March 2003 and has apparently been held incommunicado (isolation) since. The resolution recognized his "Manifesto" in which he called for greater human rights and religious freedom.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who represents a heavily-Vietnamese district in California, recalled her meeting with Dr. Que in 1998 during which he urged continued pressure on the Vietnamese government.

?The most important thing that Dr. Que said to me on that day in 1998, was that the reason we need to keep pushing for human rights in Vietnam is that it inspires and it gives hope and it gives courage to those within Vietnam who are fighting for basic human rights,? she said.

A second resolution approved by the House Tuesday calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly. A Roman Catholic priest and long-time critic of the Hanoi government, he was detained in February 2001 after sending written testimony to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom critical of the government.

Accused of slandering Vietnam's Communist party, he was sentenced by a Vietnamese court to 15 years in prison and five years probation, later reduced by five years after appeals from the United States and other governments.

Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, is a key human rights spokesman in Congress. ?The resolution we are considering today has over 100 co-sponsors and we believe will send a strong message to the leaders of Hanoi to free Father Ly and that the ongoing, systematic abuses of human rights cease and that they will not be tolerated,? he stated.

The resolution says Vietnam's government should consider the implications of Father Nguyen Van Ly's continued imprisonment for U.S./Vietnam relations, including the bilateral trade agreement under which Vietnam enjoys "normal" trading status with the United States.