To: International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance Steering Committee
Her Excellency Fiona Bruce MP, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy, United Kingdom, Steering Committee Chair
His Excellency Robert Rehak, Ambassador and Special Envoy for Holocaust, Interfaith Dialogue and Freedom of Religion, Czech Republic, Steering Committee Vice-Chair
His Excellency Jos Douma, Ambassador and Special Envoy for Religion and Belief, Netherlands, Steering Committee Vice-Chair
The Honorable Rashad Hussain, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, United States, Steering Committee Member
His Excellency Joao Lucas Quental Novaes de Almeida, Minister, Brazil, Steering Committee Member
Dear IRFBA Steering Committee:
We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are writing to express our deep concern over the harassment and reprisals committed by Vietnamese authorities against individuals and communities for observing the August 22 International Day Commemorating Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, which was established by the UN General Assembly in May 2019. As a member state of the United Nations, the Vietnamese government should have encouraged citizens in marking this day as well as facilitated their participation. As a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council, it is setting an extremely poor example.
In early June 2022, three Montagnard Christians in Cu M’Gar District, Dak Lak Province, were fined 4 million VND each for having observed last year’s August 22 International Day. On August 20 of this year, the provincial police forced a group of Cao Dai followers in Long Xuyen City, An Giang Province, to stop their observance ceremony and sign a pledge not to resume it on the following days. On August 22, the police “invited” the leader of another group of Cao Dai followers in Long Xuyen City to the police station and kept him there for 5 hours so that he could not conduct commemorative activities. Similarly, five Montagnard house church leaders in Dak Lak Province were “invited” to the police station on August 22, probably as a ploy to interfere with their observance of this international day. The police of Phu Yen Province was even more oppressive; they “invited” Nay Y Blang, leader of a Montagnard Christian house church in Ea Lam Commune, to “working sessions” at the police station every day after he had officiated an early observance on August 17. Each working session lasted from dawn to late evening. The police threatened that he would end up in prison within this year.
Several of the victims already wrote to government authorities, including Vietnam’s President, to seek their explanation of the legal basis for the threats, interference, and penalties directed at them by the police. Many of these religious believers and their communities have been victims of acts of violence in the past because of their faith. Therefore, observing the August 22 International Day bears special meaning for them. Many of these victims, despite the punishments inflicted on them and the continued threats of even more severe punishment, are determined to exercise their right and support the next United Nations-initiated international day:they plan to observe International Human Rights Day on December 10.
We note that on 22 August, the embassies in Vietnam of seven countries (Austria, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA) issued a joint statement in support of this international day:
“On this important day, we would like to express our support for the victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief, as well as to their families and loved ones. Today, we honor those who have suffered for exercising their human rights as well as those who defend these rights.
“We urge states and people everywhere to join forces in the fight against violence and discrimination, and in ensuring all individuals can enjoy their human rights in dignity and freedom.”
Reflecting the spirit of this joint statement, we call on IRFBA government members to:
Collectively express concern at the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session in light of Vietnam’s announced candidacy for a seat on this council;
Instruct their missions in Vietnam to make a joint request to the Vietnamese government for a thorough investigation the above incidents; and
Call on human rights officers at their missions in Vietnam to visit communities targeted by the government and/or invite representatives of these communities to meetings in Ha Noi or in Saigon (HCM City).