03/29/2007, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Hanoi restricts human rights

by Nguyen Van Tranh
Human rights groups slam Vietnam’s government for its crackdown. Greater restrictions are coming as Father Ly, a Catholic priest, goes before a court charged with propaganda against the Communist Party. Religious freedom needs a broader scope. Under the law religious organisations are not allowed to operate in schools, health care facilities, social services, newspapers and publishing.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – As Fr Nguyen Van Ly’s trial for alleged propaganda against the Communist Party (which could land him 20 years in jail) approaches, human rights groups accuse the Vietnamese government of increasingly restrict human rights after it achieved its international goals like membership in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  Indeed, Human Rights Watch writes that Vietnam has launched “one of the worst crackdowns on peaceful dissidents in 20 years.”

Even though the authorities have shown some flexibility religions also face restrictions and some areas of activities are off-limits to them. For instance, it is hard to get a permit to organise activities in the educational, social, health and publishing fields.

“These are ‘classified’,” said a member of the Paul Nguyen Van Binh’s Club in the archdiocese of Saigon.

“According to the ‘Religions Law,’ activities like education, health care, communication, newspaper, religious publishing must respect the letter of the law,” said Dr Nguyen. “There are no explanations as to why the law does not allow religious organisations to play a role in high school education, universities and hospitals. With its rules the government is wasting great human resources, failing in its tasks at socialization, education and social action.”

“Under the law, as individuals religious leaders, nuns or priests can work in education, media, social work and health care, but religious organisations cannot,” said Mr Phuong, a Catholic attorney.

“Public opinion,” he explained, “wants the Religions Law to be changed so that religious organisations can engage in such activities. The poor would benefit and so would unlucky children and people living in difficult circumstances.”

As for Father Ly, he was arrested on February 19 of this year The 60-year-old clergyman, who has already spent 20 years in jail, should be tried starting tomorrow in Hué with foreign journalists present.

He was previously sentenced for trying to organise a political party and for submitting his testimony to a UN Congressional Committee on religious freedom.

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