U.S. Department of State Raises Concern over Convictions of Religious Freedom Activists in Vietnam

U.S. Department of State Raises Concern over Convictions of Religious Freedom Activists in Vietnam
Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

State Department Raises Concern Over Treatment of Religious Freedom Advocates in Vietnam

The U.S. State Department on April 1 expressed concerns over the recent convictions of ethnic minority and Vietnamese religious freedom advocates, including five convictions since January this year. The most recent case involved the sentencing of Y Krec Bya, an indigenous Protestant missionary, to 13-year imprisonment on allegations of “sabotaging the national unity policy.”

The U.S. statement says that Y Krec Bya is “a peaceful voice for freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam” and that the United States is “particularly troubled” by his conviction. It also brings attention to the prison terms imposed on other indigenous advocates, including Nay Y Blang, Danh Minh Quang, Thach Cuong, and To Hoang Chuong, who peacefully advocate for human rights and freedom of religion.

The State Department also calls on Vietnam to “respect the rights of individuals to exercise freedoms of expression, association, and religion or belief” and urges the country to release those unjustly detained.

Political Prisoner Nguyen Thi Tam Denied Essential Medicine

A prison in Thanh Hoa Province has denied traditional medicine for Nguyen Thi Tam, a political prisoner and land rights advocate, to treat her uterine fibroids, according to Nguyen Thanh Mai, Tam’s daughter. Tam was arrested in 2020 and is serving a six-year sentence for “distributing anti-state propaganda.” 

Tam's family said that she had suffered from fibroids since March last year, and her health had deteriorated due to the lack of treatment. Mai said her mother’s condition significantly improved after taking a traditional herb called Crinum Latifolium, which the family had sent her. But since last October, Thanh Hoa Prison No. 5 stopped accepting the herbal medicine, claiming they could not verify its ingredients and only allowed Tam to take the medications they provided.

The traditional medicine Tam used was approved by Vietnam's Ministry of Health, which declared it was an “anti-cancer and fungus-eliminating herb” supporting the treatment of cervical cancer. Mai said the prison medicines had no effect on the fibroids, and her mother had been bleeding for 17 consecutive days as a result.

She added that the prison stopped giving Tam other items the family sent and confiscated many of her personal belongings, such as diaries, English books, and notebooks. On March 29, a correctional officer also intervened when Tam called home and told her family about mistreatment in prison. The officer told her to “focus on health issues” and hung up the phone.

Authorities Demolish a Lecture Hall Linked to an Indigenous Khmer Krom Pagoda

The authorities on April 1 demolished a Buddhist lecture hall linked to the Dai Tho Pagoda in  Vinh Long Province, which serves as a spiritual worship place for the indigenous Khmer Krom people, saying it’s an illegal construction. Video footage showed an excavator clearing rubble from the site, prompting an outcry from many residents.

On that day, around 100 officers prevented residents and Buddhists from reaching the pagoda as six excavators demolished the building. A resident told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the building lacked proper permits because of a complicated land dispute. Members of the Khmer Krom community in Vietnam, which numbers about 1.3 million people, described the demolition as a discriminatory act by the government.

On March 28, the police arrested four indigenous Buddhist monks of this pagoda. abbot Thach Chanh Da Ra and his follower Kim Khiemon were allegedly charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331. The police also charged Thach Ve Sanal for “illegally arresting, holding, or detaining people” from an incident that happened last November.

In November 2023, RFA reported that these Buddhist monks clashed with local authorities when Thach Chanh Da Ra refused to let a supervision force from the Tam Binh District People’s Committee in Vinh Long Province enter the pagoda.

Possible Russian Involvement in Havana Syndrome Attack in Vietnam, Evidence Shows

CBS News’ 60 Minutes program recently aired an investigative broadcast that presented new evidence suggesting that Russia provided Vietnam with technology to launch a “Havana Syndrome” style attack ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Hanoi in 2021. The program was a collaboration between the investigative journalist Christo Grozev and CBS.

A source told 60 Minutes that Vietnamese security services had been given technology to listen in on the Americans ahead of the Harris trip, which may have caused the attack. According to this source, the Vietnamese agents may have been told to use the technology to conduct surveillance on the diplomats, but they may not have been aware that the technology could harm people’s health.

Grozev, the journalist, claimed he found a document consolidating this theory. He said that an email sent to the Security Council of Russia five months before Harris’ scheduled visit enclosing a document shows that Russian intelligence lobbied for and received permission from President Vladimir Putin to provide exclusive technology to Vietnamese security services, including “LRAD acoustic emitters” and “short-wave equipment for scanning the human body.”

Ahead of the U.S. vice president’s trip, U.S. officials in Vietnam experienced Havana Syndrome-like attacks, and some injured personnel were medevaced out of the country. Symptoms of Havana Syndrome often include nausea, dizziness, migraines, and prolonged vision and hearing problems. Although the causes remain unclear, experts believe the incidents involved potential sonic or microwave attacks.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam: Will President's Resignation Affect Foreign Investment?

Foreign Policy/ Dien Luong/ April 1

“Given the lack of a clear leadership succession plan, there is no end in sight to political infighting before the next Congress in 2026, and uncertainty will likely continue to cloud Vietnam’s political landscape. But for both foreign investors and international partners, the key is to stay the course. Hanoi’s political processes, although turbulent, have a way of self-correcting over time. A long-term perspective is essential, as the country’s strategic importance and economic potential remain compelling.”

Gaza war reminds Vietnam of liberation struggle once shared with Palestine

Al Jazeera/ Hai Dang/ March 30

“Hanoi, however, has also been careful not to put its relationship with Israel at serious risk by openly naming Israel in its criticism. Even so, a former Israeli ambassador to Vietnam still called Hanoi’s stance on Gaza  "disappointing" in an interview.

For some, such gestures in support of Palestine are not enough to make good on Vietnam's historical debts to Palestinians and the PLO’s [Palestine Liberation Organization] support for Hanoi during the Cold War.”

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