~ Le ViÍt Nam, aujourd'hui. ~
The Vietnam News

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Vietnam police bust Hanoi bible meet, detain 20

HANOI - Vietnamese security police have raided an evangelical bible meeting in Hanoi and detained 20 people for participating in an ``illegal religious event,'' sources close to those arrested said on Friday.

The 14 women and six men, who belonged to the unofficial Vietnam Assemblies of God Church (eds: correct), had met for a three day spiritual retreat and bible study session in a Hanoi hotel when police burst in last Friday evening, added one source, who declined to be identified.
Eighteen people were released two days later after being charged with breach of the peace while one man, Lo Van Hen, was taken under police escort to his home in remote Dien Bien Phu, 500 km (310 miles) west of Hanoi, the source said.
One of the group's leaders, Reverend Tran Dinh (Paul) Ai, was still being detained in Hanoi on Friday, although it was unclear what charges, if any, he would face.

Another source confirmed the details surrounding the detention of the 20 people.
The Foreign Ministry, in response to questions from Reuters, said it was in ``contact with the various agencies concerned.''
The whereabouts of Hen, an evangelist pastor from the Black Thai ethnic minority, were currently unknown. Hen was freed from jail on January 28 after serving three years for ``illegal religious activities,'' the first source said.

He added he had been in contact with Ai, who anticipated a long detention and appealed for help to leave the country.
Ai, who operates a private house-church in Ho Chi Minh City, has been a thorn in the side of Hanoi's leaders. Most recently he was jailed for more than two years in the early 1990s on charges related to proselytising, the source added.
Ai was also one of few religious figures not linked to the government who was able to meet U.N. Special Rapporteur for Religious Intolerance, Abdelfattah Amor, who visited Vietnam last October.
In an appeal seen by Reuters on Friday, the bible group said they had met peacefully and were no threat to anyone.

``We were raided, harassed and interrogated. Our religious books were confiscated, one of our women evangelists was slapped around by the police and our preacher is still detained,'' the written appeal said.
``We appeal to our government to help us realise our simple aspiration to have freedom to live and practise our faith.''
While communist-ruled Vietnam's constitution enshrines freedom of religion, the state retains tight control and religious groups and individuals have reported harassment by local authorities and internal security forces.
The U.N.'s Amor, in a recent report on the religious situation in Vietnam, slammed Hanoi for a failure to respect fundamental rights of religious freedom.

In the case of Protestants, Amor said they faced the banning of religious services, fines, confiscations of literature, as well as harassment and arrest. No Protestant training schools were permitted in the country, Amor added.
Hanoi rejected Amor's assessment and said he had showed bad will to the country.
Some foreign governments and international human rights groups say Vietnam imprisons people for peaceful expression of political or religious views -- a charge Hanoi also rejects.

A national three-day conference on religion, which was due to end on Friday, heard that progress had been made on religious affairs but that problems remained.

Reuters - May 14, 1999.

Vietnam religion report says problems remain

HANOI - A new Vietnam government report on religion said progress had been made on religious affairs in the communist-ruled country, but stated that problems remained, official media said on Wednesday.

Le Quang Vinh, head of the Government Committee on Religion, presented the report at a national conference held to review religious affairs in 1998 and discuss implementation of a new decree on religion, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) said.
There were an increasing number of incidents of illegal construction or repair of religious sites, disputes over the possession of religious buildings and illegal religious promotion activities over the last year, VNA added.
While the climate for worship in Vietnam has eased in the last decade, the state retains strict control over the organisation of religions and associated activities.

Official documents seen by Reuters have indicated growing official disquiet over rapid growth in Protestant Evangelism, particularly among the Hmong ethnic minority in the mountainous northwest and other groups in the central highlands.
At least one provincial authority has attempted to force some people to sign pledges that they will not adopt Protestantism, those documents show.
Vinh reported that ``Progress has been made in the operation of religious organisations in accordance with the law and the common interest of the nation,'' VNA said.

Some 300 delegates at the conference, which is expected to finish on Friday, heard that visits from Communist Party and government officials to believers on occasions of Buddha's birthday and Christmas had created a mood of goodwill, VNA said.
The printing of religious literature and the operation of religious schools had been favourable, while religious dignitaries, monks and nuns had been granted exit visas to travel overseas, the agency added.
Religious literature in Vietnam can only be printed by the state, which also insists on limiting and approving all religious appointments.

In a recent report, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Religious Intolerance, Adelfattah Amor, who visited Vietnam last October, said the country continued to limit religious freedoms -- a charge Hanoi rejected.

Reuters - May 12, 1999.