September 28, 2020
The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Religious freedom and human rights advocates call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển
Dear Secretary Pompeo:
We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are writing to call on the Department of State to press for the release of religious prisoner of conscience Nguyễn Bắc Truyển as part of the upcoming US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. He is arguably the highest-profile religious prisoner of conscience in Vietnam. He has been adopted by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) under its religious freedom project and by Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Harley Rouda under the Defending Freedom Project of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Up until his abduction by the police, he served as the original coordinator of the Vietnam Freedom of Religion or Belief Roundtable.
Mr. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was abducted on July 30, 2017 by the Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) authorities and secretly transferred to Hanoi. After six months held incommunicado, he was tried on the charge of "acting to overthrow the people’s government" under Article 79 of the Vietnamese Penal Code (VPC) and sentenced to eleven years in prison and then to three years of house arrest following the prison term. He is now held at Prison Camp An Điềm, about 1000 kilometers away from his wife and family.
Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, born in 1968, is a Hoa Hao Buddhist. He was arrested for the first time in 2006 and sentenced to three and a half years followed by two years of house arrest on the charge of “propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. After his release, in 2010 he joined the Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association, an organization that assists impecunious prisoners and their families. As a jurist, he provided pro-bono legal assistance to families of political prisoners, victims of land grabbing, and persecuted religious communities. From 2014 until his most recent abduction, he cooperated with the Redemptorist Order’s Justice and Peace Office as coordinator of its assistance program for disabled veterans of South Vietnam.
Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is deeply committed to the right to freedom of religion or belief. He worked to build capacity for religious communities in Vietnam so that they can fully exercise their basic rights. His inter-religious activities also aimed at strengthening the dialogue and cooperation between various religions. Until his arrest in 2017, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển coordinated the Vietnam Freedom of Religion or Belief Roundtable, a network of religious freedom advocates and members of persecuted religious and indigenous communities. He was also co-founder of Vietnam Coalition Against Torture and contributed many submissions to the UN Committee Against Torture.
Nguyễn Bắc Truyển meticulously collected evidence and interviewed victims for the compilation of submissions to the different UN mandate holders. He and his wife provided valuable assistance to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief during the Special Rapporteur’s July 2014 visit in Vietnam. His imprisonment has all the earmarks of an act of reprisal by the government for his human rights work. In his September 2019 Intimidation and Reprisals Reports, the UN Secretary General also considered the government’s travel ban imposed on Mr. Truyển’s wife, Ms. Bùi Thị Kim Phượng, to be an act of reprisal. In March 2019 she was prevented from travelling from Vietnam to Geneva, Germany, and the United States to advocate for the release of her husband.
In the latest Intimidation and Reprisal Report, released on September 15, 2020, the UN Secretary-General expressed concern regarding Nguyễn Bắc Truyển’s frail health and the lack of proper medical care in prison: “Since his arrest in July 2017, Mr. Nguyen Bac Truyen has reportedly not had a proper medical examination, faces restrictions of food and medical supplies, and his health condition has deteriorated. A petition on 18 January 2020 to the Board of Supervisors at An Diem prison requesting a medical check reportedly remains unanswered.”
Vietnam is a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The detention of Mr. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a violation of several of its articles, including Article 18 (right to freedom of religion or belief), Article 7 (freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment), Article 9 (right to liberty and security of the person and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention), and Article 14 (right to equality before the law; the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to have a fair and public hearing by an impartial tribunal established by law).
On August 13 of this year, 65 current and former parliamentarians from 28 countries sent a joint letter to Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, calling for Nguyễn Bắc Truyển’s immediate and unconditional release. In the spirit of solidarity with our colleagues at the Vietnam Freedom of Religion or Belief Roundtable, we ask that the United States consider his freedom a key benchmark of human rights improvement at the upcoming human rights dialogue with Vietnam.
Boat People SOS
1. Association for the Advancement of Freedom of Religion or Belief-Vietnam (AAFoRB-VN)
2. Vietnam Coalition Against Torture
1. Pastor A Ga, Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ Former victim of religious persecution in Vietnam Raleigh, North Carolina
2. Khanh Tran
Chief Operating Officer, BPSOS
Falls Church, VA