02/09/2005, 00.00
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US Commission calls for sanctions against Vietnam and Saudi Arabia for violating religious freedom

Washington (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The US Commission on International Religious Freedom called on the US government to impose sanctions on Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea for violating the rights of religious believers.

The Commission's annual report released in September of last year had singled out these three as "countries of particular concern" for the limits they imposed on religious freedom.

In a letter published early this week, the Commission specifically recommended that the U.S. identify Saudi government officials responsible for serious violations and not allow them entry into the country. It should also bar officials who propagate around the world "an ideology that explicitly promotes hate, intolerance, and human rights violations".

It also demanded that the same steps be taken against Vietnam, proposing that US$ 1 million be spent promoting freedom of worship in the Communist nation.

The Commission confirmed that the Vietnamese government released six prisoners of conscience for Tết Nguyên Ðán, the Vietnamese New Year, among them Fr Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for "undermining national unity".

His charge stemmed from a written testimony he submitted to a hearing held by US Commission in which he criticised the Vietnamese government's interference with religious belief and practice

"Fr. Ly's freedom is particularly important to the Commission," said its chairwoman Preeta D. Bansal. However, we must "recognise that many prisoners remain in Vietnam for doing nothing more than peacefully advocating [. . .] freedom of thought, conscience, and belief".

In announcing the release of the six dissidents, Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Ministers Le Van Bang said that Father Van Ly and the other prisoners were freed because "they re-educated themselves well". (LF)

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