Sun, May 04, 2008 - Page 5 News List

US to keep Vietnam off its religious freedom blacklist

‘IMPROVING’The US State Department said that Hanoi had released several prisoners held for their beliefs, and that most churches had been reopened

AFP , WASHINGTON

The US said on Friday it saw no reason to put Vietnam back on a blacklist of religious freedom violators despite a recommendation from a US human rights watchdog.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recommending the State Department reinclude Vietnam on a “country of particular concern” (CPC) blacklist.

The State Department removed Vietnam from the list in 2006.

“We did so because Vietnam has addressed the central issues that we believed constituted severe violations of religious freedom, and they continue to make improvements on those,” State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.

Casey said: “There are certainly still a number of issues in terms of religious freedom in Vietnam.”

But “the actions that the Vietnamese government has taken to address some of our concerns makes them a country that does not merit being included on the CPC or the countries of particular concern list,” he said.

Vietnam was blacklisted in 2004 for failing to heed US requests to free people jailed for their religious beliefs, reopen hundreds of churches, ban the forced renunciation of faith and end general abuses of religious believers.

“And since 2004 a lot has changed,” Casey said.

“And in November 2006 we took them off the list because, among other things, they’d released a significant number of prisoners, including 45 that we had specifically raised with the government,” Casey told reporters. “They have also reopened most of the churches that had been forcibly closed, particularly in the central highlands.”

“They put forward a new legal framework on religion that banned forced renunciations of faith, which, again, was one of our considerations,” he said.

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