On May 5, John Hanford, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, announced an agreement with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam regarding issues of religious liberty. The details of the agreement, outlined privately in an exchange of letters, have not yet been made public.

Hanford initiated negotiations with Vietnamese officials in early February during a lengthy visit to the communist country. On March 8, the Cong An newspaper quoted Deputy Minister of Public Security General Nguyen Van Huong giving the ambassador the standard government line that Vietnam holds no religious prisoners and no prisoner in Vietnam has ever been mistreated.

But negotiations in the following weeks produced some changes, as Hanford announced during a May 5 news conference that 12 religious prisoners were released as part of a special amnesty.

Compass has learned that six Hmong Christians were among those prisoners freed in connection with the April 30 amnesty. Mua A Chau had been sentenced to three years for "resisting an officer doing his duty." Ly Chin Seng, Ly Xin Quang, Vang Chin Sang and Vang My Ly, four men of the Hoang Su Phu District in Ha Giang province, were serving sentences from 26 to 36 months for "disturbing public order" by holding worship services in their homes.

The other Hmong Christian, Sung Seo Pao, regained his freedom just 17 days before completing an 11-year sentence on similar charges.

In September 2004, the U.S. named Vietnam a "country of particular concern" (CPC) because of its record of religious liberty offenses. The 1998 Law on International Religious Freedom allows for sanctions to be imposed on a CPC that does not improve its religious rights record.

Alternatively, a CPC may negotiate an agreement with the ...

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