Last Tuesday, June 12, President Bush spoke at the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial that honors the memories of those killed in communist regimes. He said their deaths should remind the American public "evil is real and must be confronted." Ironically, this Friday, June 22, President Bush will honor the president of a tyrannical communist regime that murdered over a million Vietnamese and ethnic minorities with a White House visit during which he has the opportunity to confront that evil.
Recently, dozens of democracy activists, journalists, cyber- dissidents and Christian and other religious leaders were arrested and imprisoned by the Vietnamese communists. Congressional leaders and human-rights groups have charged Hanoi with "unbridled human-rights abuses," the "worst wave of oppression in 20 years." Those recently arrested are but a few of the hundreds of political and religious prisoners in Vietnam; some have been tried, while those less visible simply "disappeared." This mounting crackdown is a deliberate diplomatic slap in the face of the United States.
Hanoi brazenly aired on TV the kangaroo court trial of Thaddeus Nguyen Van Father Ly, who was muzzled during the proceedings. In Vietnamese, the colloquial phrase for censorship is "bit mieng" -- to cover the mouth. The picture of Father Ly's muzzling seems a literal enactment of an old cliche. Denied representation, Father Ly was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
Mr. Bush's endorsement for Hanoi's admission into the World Trade Organization at last year's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Hanoi, the removal of Vietnam from listed as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), and the granting of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) were all predicated on the Communist Party substantially improving its human-rights record.
It should come as no surprise that after the granting of these privileges, the Vietnamese communists continued and intensified their repression.
Though Vietnam professes great strides in religious freedom, one must look under the veneer to seek the truth. For example, in 2006, the Vietnamese government claimed that "25 denominations" had received certificates to carry on religious activities, when in fact they were only individual house churches.
The price of these certificates is the surrender of religious freedom. The church must submit to the central Bureau of Religious Affairs (CBA) a list of the names and addresses of members, and only those approved by the CBA can attend services. All sermons must be approved by the CBA, and all sermons, including those of minorities, must be given in Vietnamese. Pastors and priests can neither deviate from the approved sermon nor proselytize, and the CBA police monitor all services.
Montagnards, Hmong and other Christians, Khmer Krom Monks, members of the Cao Dai faith, and Hoa Hao are still relentlessly persecuted. This is what Hanoi calls religious freedom, and the U.S. administration was naive enough to believe them and removed them from the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list of countries that suppress religious freedom.
Recently, the Vietnamese communist regime demanded of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues the cancellation of scheduled films to be screened at the May 22 forum. One film, "Hunted Like Animals," sponsored by the Hmong-Lao Human Rights Council depicted the genocide against the Hmong, and the other film depicted human-rights abuses against the Khmer Krom by the Vietnamese communists. It should come as no surprise that the United Nations acquiesced to the demands of the repressive Hanoi regime.
Reminiscent of the days of slavery in the "Old South," Montagnards who flee from repression in the Central Highlands are hunted down like wild animals. Vietnam pays bounties to Cambodian police for every Montagnard they catch and turn over to them. Vietnam considers refugees seeking asylum in another country to have violation its national security, punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years.
Recently, three Montagnards were arrested by Cambodian police and charged with "human trafficking" for the so-called crime of aiding other Montagnards to flee the repression in Vietnam via the Montagnards' "underground railroad." Although Cambodia does little to stop the trafficking of children for prostitution, the communist regime is prosecuting these Montagnards on Vietnam's request in hopes it will convince the U.S. it is serious about trafficking. Vietnam pulls the strings of the marionette Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Reports continue from behind the curtain of silence drawn around the Central Highlands of the torture and deaths of Montagnard Christians. During a February trip to Hanoi, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, told a press conference that the Vietnamese officials assured her that Montagnards can freely travel to the Embassy in Hanoi or the Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to voice any grievances.
She said Montagnards should stay in Vietnam and not seek asylum in Cambodia. Given the Vietnamese communists history of repression and broken promises, how can Mrs. Sauerbrey be naive enough to believe Montagnards suffering persecution would ever to be allowed through the phalanx of Vietnamese police surrounding the U.S. Embassy and Consulate?
As predicted, Hanoi has announced the release of a few token high- profile political prisoners in an attempt to smooth the way for the arrival of Vietnam's President Triet, and in hopes of placating President Bush, the State Department and Congress. Can this administration be gullible enough to fall for yet another charade by the Vietnamese communists?
President Bush, keeping faith in the spirit of the Victims of Communism Memorial that "evil is real and must be confronted," should demand of Vietnam's president the release of all of the hundreds of political prisoners including those recently arrested and the more than 350 Christian Montagnards that seem to have been forgotten by this administration.
*Mike **Benge* is an advocate for human rights and religious freedom in South East Asia.