President Obama Plans to Visit Vietnam Whilst Christian Lawyer Imprisoned There

Last week a U.S.-ASEAN Summit was held on U.S. soil for the first time. President Obama and leaders from Southeast Asia met in Sunnylands, California to discuss political and economic strategies for the Southeast Asian region. Leading up to the summit, Jubilee Campaign joined with other organizations to send a letter to President Obama asking him to make human rights, especially in Vietnam, a top priority during the discussions. (Read the letter we sent to the President here.)

Despite efforts to halt strengthening ties between the United States and Vietnam due to Vietnam’s detainment of human rights lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai, and Vietnam’s continuous crackdown on Christianity and other religions, news surfaced that President Obama is planning to visit the communist country in May. We ask that you raise your voice and call for the President to urge Vietnam to take a more serious approach to human rights, considering  the United States’ influence on Vietnam’s economy. The arrest and detention of lawyer Van Dai, a Christian, contravenes the democratic principles in the ASEAN joint statement to which the Vietnamese government just ascribed.

The leaders at the summit produced a joint statement establishing key principles that ASEAN will follow as it moves forward. Though human rights may not have been at the forefront of the summit, we are pleased that the principles include a “commitment to ensure opportunities for all of our peoples, through strengthening democracy, enhancing good governance and adherence to the rule of law, promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, encouraging the promotion of tolerance and moderation, and protecting the environment.” The leaders also stated their commitment to promote opportunities for vulnerable peoples. 

While critics suggest the ASEAN summits are more “symbolic” than productive, we hope that member countries will abide by the principles they have agreed upon. The joint statement not only encourages us for the potential improvement of conditions in Vietnam, but also for other countries in which Jubilee Campaign has taken up advocacy such as Thailand, Laos and Brunei.

Jubilee continues advocacy for asylum seekers in Bangkok, who are not recognized by the Thai authorities as refugees. The Thai government continues to arrest Pakistani asylum seekers who have registered with the UNHCR but have not yet received their interview. Meanwhile, the asylum seekers await deportation in crowded detentions where they are met with unhygienic environments and despicable conditions.

Religious freedoms are inconsistently protected throughout local governments in Laos, leaving many people largely without any kind of religious liberties. Laos also has a very strict proselytizing law that restricts people from sharing their faith with others. As President Obama plans to visit Laos in September, Jubilee Campaign will continue to highlight Laos’ lack of rights and call upon the Obama administration to influence Lao leaders to make improvements.

In Brunei, the government continues to increase the influence of Shariah law throughout the country, despite the fact that the country is only 67% Muslim. This past December, citizens were banned from openly celebrating Christmas, including the forbiddance of putting up decorations and nativity scenes.

We hope that the joint statement will move the human rights conditions in Southeast Asia in a positive direction. Join us in praying for the Christians in the region that continue to face persecution from their governments.

Read the US-ASEAN Joint Statement:

Read more about US-ASEAN relations: