When there is freedom of religion, it not only allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions, but it allows faith groups to serve their communities through schools and hospitals, and care for the poor and the vulnerable.
-President Obama, Hanoi, Vietnam, 5/24/16
In May, President Obama visited Vietnam in an effort to strengthen US-Vietnamese relations. However, he also used his time in the country to address some of its most lacking human rights, including religious freedom. Prior to the president’s trip, Jubilee Campaign and other human rights organizations heavily urged President Obama to make human rights a prioritized topic in Vietnam. During a public speech in Hanoi, he addressed the value human rights would have for the Vietnamese people.
“The United States does not seek to impose our form of government on Vietnam. The rights I speak of I believe are not American values; I think they’re universal values written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
…But as a friend of Vietnam, allow me to share my view — why I believe nations are more successful when universal rights are upheld.
…When there is freedom of religion, it not only allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions, but it allows faith groups to serve their communities through schools and hospitals, and care for the poor and the vulnerable. And when there is freedom of assembly — when citizens are free to organize in civil society — then countries can better address challenges that government sometimes cannot solve by itself. So it is my view that upholding these rights is not a threat to stability, but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress.”
Three days prior to President Obama’s arrival, Vietnamese authorities released Father Van Ly who was nearing the end of an 8 year sentence. Obama’s visit prompted his release to come earlier than planned. Ly has spent over 20 years in prison and 15 years of house arrest due to his activism. Over the years, Jubilee Campaign has taken part in continuously advocating for his release. In 2002, Jubilee Campaign organized a visit for Lord David Alton and Congressman Joseph Pitts to investigate the human rights situation of Vietnam. Lord Alton reported on the status of Fr. Ly at the time, “Father Van Ly is serving a fifteen-year prison sentence and during a visit to Hanoi with US Congressman, Joseph Pitts (Rep. Pennsylvania) on behalf of the Jubilee Campaign, I raised his case with Le Quang Vinh, head of the Vietnamese Government Committee on Religion.”
It has been a long road for Fr. Ly. We are thrilled for his release, but we know that this may not be the end of the hardships he faces from the Vietnamese government. The government still continues to discriminate against and detain religious members and activists.
Government officials within Vietnam continue to oppress religious minorities and persecute any expressions calling for more freedom of religion or of democratic values. Crackdowns preceded President Obama’s trip. The family of Vietnamese pastor, Nguyen Cong Chinh, were beaten and mistreated by authorities three times between May 11-13. Chinh’s 18-year-old son was arrested when he tried to protect his mother from the beatings. Tran Thi Hong, Chinh’s wife has described the treatment her family has received as “intolerable.” She too fights for human rights as a member of the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights. Her husband has been in jail since 2012 serving an 11-year sentence. His charge stated that he “falsely accuse[d] Vietnam of suppressing religious freedom” and that he participated in “anti-government activities.”
Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai is still in prison despite continued pressure put on the Vietnamese government for his release. A Christian who was originally arrested in part for defending persecuted pastors, he was seriously beaten and physically abused during his re-arrest on December 16, 2015. His wife, Vu Minh Khanh, bravely shared her and her husband’s compelling testimony during a US Congressional hearing on May 10. She described the harsh treatment that her husband has received in prison and the denial she’s received from authorities to visit him.
During times like these, it’s important for the body of Christ to encourage one another and stay united in the Lord. If you would like to send Mrs. Khanh a postcard letting her know that you are praying for her and her husband, please email email@example.com and provide us with your name and mailing address. We will then send you a postcard with an encouraging message to sign and send to Mrs. Khanh.