Vietnam showed in October why it's ranked as one of the world's most repressive regimes. That's when it sentenced a Roman Catholic priest to 15 years in prison for providing written testimony to the U.S. Congress about breaches of religious freedom.

Hanoi found Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly guilty of "undermining national unity" by "publicly slandering" the Vietnamese Communist Party. Open Doors with Brother Andrew ranked Vietnam the eighth worst religious persecutor in 2001, ahead of Sudan and Pakistan, for its harsh controls on religion.

"This kind of behavior does not help the Vietnamese government make its case that it deserves additional trade benefits and international loans," says Michael K. Young, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). "In order to have credibility on other issues, Vietnam must uphold its international human rights and religious freedom commitments."

Vietnam's constitutional guarantees of religious freedom are empty, according to Operation World. Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom notes that Vietnam denies legal standing to many independent entities and that most Protestant congregations operate underground. Underground leaders tell of police raids, church closings, and torture. According to USCIRF, Hanoi has excessively fined, imprisoned, and kept under surveillance those not affiliated with one of the six recognized religious entities.

More than 54 percent of the population is Buddhist (22 percent is nonreligious, 8 percent is Christian). Yet the government has banned the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam for refusing to submit to state controls.

The government usually reserves torture, harassment, and church closings for ethnic Christians living in remote villages, such as the Hmong, according to Freedom House. The rights organization has obtained four official documents showing that the government intends to eliminate Protestant Christianity in a district of Lao Cai Province.

Operation World estimates that dozens of Christian leaders languish in Vietnamese prisons. Among them is Nguyen Hong Quang, a former lawyer who pastored a Mennonite church in Ho Chi Minh City before his arrest last August. The government has detained him many times for evangelizing and documenting attacks on Vietnam's Protestant community.

Police reportedly raided services in Quang's church four times during the first six months of 2001. They severely beat him on at least one occasion. In an appeal to the West last June, Quang urged Christians to "raise their voices and pray and protest the actions" of Vietnamese authorities.

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Related Elsewhere

The U.S. State Department's 2001 Report on International Religious Freedom says that the Vietnam government "continues to restrict those organized activities of religious groups that it declares to be at variance with state laws and policies."

At Christmas, The Boston Globe reported on the freedoms in Vietnam reporting that Ly was arrested for advocating "a brand of Catholicism not sanctioned by the government, assisting in flood relief measures not approved by the government, and advancing democratic reforms not welcomed.

Voice of the Martyrs also recently reflected on Vietnam's religious freedom in an article posted on

For more articles on Vietnam, see Christianity Today's World Report and Yahoo's full coverage.

Previous Christianity Today articles about Vietnam include:

Activist Christian Pastor Arrested In VietnamPublic Security Police have busted up Mennonite services four times this year. (Aug. 24, 2001)
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Vietnam Jams Hmong Christian Radio BroadcastsGovernment tries to curb spread of Protestant Christianity along Chinese border. (Sept. 1, 2000)
Authorities Destroy 'Church' in VietnamCrude structure in Ho Chi Minh City slum had been erected only hours earlier. (July 27, 2000)
Napalm Victim Now Agent for PeaceCanadian Christian remembers tearing burning clothes from her flesh. (Feb. 8, 1999)
Jesus Can Still Mean JailThe plight of Vietnam's 700,000 evangelical Christians. (Nov. 11, 1998)
House Pastors Jailed in New CrackdownSeven Vietnamese pastors imprisoned. (Jan. 6, 1997)

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