By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with BosNewsLife News Center and reports from Vietnam
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife) — As US President George W. Bush and 20 other leaders began their lavish Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hanoi’s new $260 million National Convention Center Saturday, November 18, hundreds of Christians, pro-democracy activists and homeless people remained jailed or under police surveillance “to be hidden” from the world’s attention, dissidents told BosNewsLife.
Many have reportedly been held in remote prisons while some well-known dissidents, including Memmonite Pastor Nguyen Van Dai, were apparently closely monitored by Vietnamese police forces. “The communist police continue to escalate their harassment off dissidents,” Pastor Dai said in a message obtained by BosNewsLife from Vietnam.
Dai said he and his wife are not allowed to visit church this weekend. He said his wife was prevented to visit her weekly prayer group Saturday, November 18, where she “has been fasting and praying for Vietnam the whole day.” The couple also intended to go to the Evangelical Church on Sunday, November 19, but “security officers” allegedly asked them “to stay at home for two days Saturday and Sundayâ€.
Another high-profile dissident. 37-year-old Pham Hong Son, was reportedly assaulted by police after distributing details of the situation of activists in Hanoi to international media reporting on the APEC meeting, including BosNewsLife News Agency. Son was released in August after spending three years in jail on “espionage” charges because he translated an article on democracy from the US Embassy website and distributed it among friends.
Hundreds of other dissidents “have been strictly detained inside their homes during the ummit,” said the International Movement for Democracy and Human Rights in Vietnam.
Among those under house arrest were Mennonite Pastors Nguyen Duc Chinh, Ngo Hoai No, Nguyen Hong Quang, Catholic Priests Nguyen Van Ly, Phan Van Loi, as well as Professor Nguyen Chinh Ket, Economic Engineer Do Nam Hai, and Free-lance journalist Nguyen Khac Toan and members of the Bloc 8406 group, human rights activists said.
The Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI), a major advocacy group, also expressed concern that over 350 predominantly Christian Montagnards remain in prison because of what it believes are trumped up charges related to their faith in Christ or human rights activities.
There was also concern Saturday, November 18, about the plight of homeless people whose houses were nationalized by the state. “For decades, these homeless victims have repeatedly filed complaints to local and central governments in Vietnam to demand their illegally confiscated homes and properties be returned to them. Their legitimate complaints have never been solved,” said the International Movement for Democracy and Human Rights in Vietnam.
President Bush, did not mention reported human rights issues in Vietnam Saturday, November 18, and the US State Department already removed Vietnam from its list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ regarding religious freedom. He made clear his main goal was to reach consensus on resolving a deadlock on global trade liberalization.
That was music to the ears of Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Trie who called for closer cooperation among Asia-Pacific economies. He said that to ensure sustainable development in the future, “it is clear that the Asia-Pacific economies need to tighten cooperation to further liberalize investment and trade, and promote a trading system that is fair and beneficial to all.”
Talks at APEC are focused mainly on trade, but have also been dominated by the subject of North Korea’s October 9 nuclear test. With the exception of North Korea, all of the partners in the North Korean nuclear disarmament talks are here and have been meeting
on the sidelines, the Voice of America (VOA) reported.
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told business leaders that Washington has decided this year to recognize the APEC business travel card, to make it easier for the region’s business people to travel to America.
“This will enable entrepreneurs like you to gain visas, to move through our immigration lines, and to visit America in a faster, safer and easier manner. I know. I know,” she said.
“Everywhere I go, I hear about the visa issues. Let me assure you that the United States of America wants to be open, open and secure, but open to the free flow of people, just as we want to be open to the free flow of goods.”
But groups like MFI and other advocacy groups fear the potential lucrative trade deals will be at the expense of those suffering for their faith in Christ or political ideals. While Vietnam is with China among the fastest growing economies, the country remains ruled by Communists who, dissidents say, remain opposed to anyone challenging its one-party rule and atheistic ideology.
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