A Catholic priest based in the Vietnamese coastal province hardest hit by a toxic spill urged a visiting U.S. diplomat to press for sanctions for the country’s rights abusers and to return Hanoi to a list of governments that violate religious rights, the clergyman said on Thursday.
Father Dang Huu Nam of My Khanh parish and the relatives of several prisoners of conscience from Nghe An Province met at length with a diplomat from U.S. Embassy in Vietnam, Jeremy Spector, on Wednesday, Dang told RFA.
Dang had helped his parishioners in Nghe An try to pursue justice after the April 2016 spill of toxic waste by a steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics Group, a large Taiwan-owned industrial conglomerate, that devastated more than a hundred miles of coastline in four central provinces of Vietnam.
On their meeting with Spector on Wednesday, Dang, his parishioners and the relatives of political prisoners focused on violations of religious freedom, handing the diplomat a 10-point proposal, he told RFA.
Among the requests to Washington were that Vietnam be returned to the U.S. list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for repression of religion, a release of prisoners of conscience, and sanctions on officials who abuse human rights and who persecute people of faith.
“I also told the embassy political attaché that we could not place Vietnam’s burden on others’ shoulders, but of course their voice and cooperation and pressure from outside and from foreign governments do have their own value, and that is the hope for our Vietnamese people,” Dang told RFA.
There was no immediate comment from the embassy on Dang’s requests.
Although the State Department removed Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) in 2006 amid improving diplomatic relations, “the government of Vietnam has continued to persecute religious individuals and organizations,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in an annual report in April.
Religious freedom conditions last year “trended negative,” USCIRF said, adding that 244 prisoners of conscience held in Vietnam’s jails at year-end included “some who advocated for freedom of religion or belief, and others who simply professed or practiced their faith.”
“Based on these systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, USCIRF again finds that Vietnam merits designation in 2019 as a ‘country of particular concern,’ or CPC, under the Religious Freedom ACT (IRFA), as it has recommended every year since 2002,” the rights monitoring group said.