Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Vietnam: Persecuted rights advocates in Vietnam seek help from world's democracies.

The following article was written for Morning Star News (MSN), a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that specializes in supplying original news reports of persecuted Christians, so as "to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone."

Persecuted Rights Advocates in Vietnam Seek Help from World’s Democracies
Beatings, prison also constitute an attack on liberty.

June 13, 2016 By Elizabeth Kendal for Morning Star News

(Morning Star News) – In 2006, the U.S. State Department removed Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern, citing the release of religious prisoners and the easing of religious restrictions. Two months later, the United States granted Vietnam permanent normal trade status, paving the way for Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization in January 2007.

Nguyen Van Dai
As soon as the regime had secured its goals, however, it unleashed a crack-down. Among the first to be arrested was internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Nguyen Van Dai, a Protestant Christian.

Arrested on March 6, 2007, and deemed guilty of violating Article 88 of the criminal code – “conducting propaganda against the state” – Nguyen Van Dai spent the next four years in prison in Hanoi (to March 2011) followed by four years house arrest (to March 2015).

Dai, 47, was subsequently re-arrested on Dec. 16, 2015, as he was preparing to meet with European Union representatives who were in Hanoi for the annual EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue. He is being held incommunicado, charged with violating Article 88, the maximum sentence for which is 20 years.

Mrs Vu Minh Khanh, 10 May 2016
testimony: pdf
c-span video of proceedings 
Denied access to her husband and fearing abusive treatment and unjust processes, Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh – also a strong Christian and courageous religious liberty advocate – is seeking assistance from the world’s leading democracies.

On May 10, Khanh presented her testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith.

She is now in Australia, traveling with Vietnam Voice.

Green Light for Repression

On May 23, while on an official visit to Vietnam, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted the decades-long embargo on selling lethal weapons to Vietnam without requiring any concessions in return.
This despite the fact that the Vietnam Humans Rights Act of 2015 states, “It is the sense of Congress that: it shall be U.S. policy that further easing of the prohibition on the sale of lethal military equipment to Vietnam shall require Vietnam to take additional and sustained steps to advance human rights protections.”

Smith called Obama’s move an “epic failure of diplomacy.” Phil Robertson, deputy director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch agreed. “In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of U.S. leverage to improve human rights in Vietnam – and has basically gotten nothing for it,” Robertson said.

In giving the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam exactly what it wanted without requiring anything in return, Obama has essentially given the party a green light to further escalate repression and persecution.

Consequently, religious liberty advocates hold grave fears for Dai and Khanh, especially as those fears are personified in the plight of pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and his wife, Tran Thi Hong.

Persecution Paradigm

The Rev. Nguyen Cong Chinh, a 45-year-old Protestant in the Central Highlands province of Gai Lai, has suffered systematic, violent persecution at the hands of Communist Party officials since 2003, when he protested ethnic-religious persecution and appealed for religious liberty.

Rev. Nguyen Cong Chinh
Arrested on April 28, 2011, Pastor Chinh was sentenced on July 31, 2012 to 11 years in prison for violating Article 87 of the criminal code, “undermining national unity.” In prison, he has been subjected to lengthy periods of solitary confinement, numerous beatings, deprivations (including being denied the right to pray), and humiliating and traumatizing Cultural-Revolution- style criticism sessions that fuel inmate hostility against him.

Also targeted for systematic violent persecution is Pastor Chinh’s wife, Tran Thi Hong, for she too is a courageous religious liberty advocate.

On March 30 March, local regime officials forcefully prevented Hong from attending her scheduled meeting with a U.S. delegation led by David Saperstein, Ambassador-at-Large on International Religious Freedom. The meeting only went ahead after Hong managed to inform Saperstein that she had been ambushed, seized and escorted back home, at which point Saperstein intervened.

Mrs Tran Thi Hong, 14 April 2016.
source
On the morning of April 14, however, officials abducted Hong from her home and took her to the office of the People’s Committee of Hoa Lu Ward, where she was interrogated and beaten by plainclothes agents for three hours, leaving her with injuries to her head, knees, legs, hands, and feet.

In May, Hong was forcibly dragged to the police station and interrogated on May 11, 12, 13, 27 and 28. On May 13, when her distressed 18-year- old son tried to protect her, he too was assaulted, strangled, bound and detained for the rest of the day.

Attracting Interest

The violent persecution of Hong and the re-arrest of Dai and have not gone unnoticed. On April 26, Amnesty International demanded “a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation” into “the alleged torture of Mrs. Tran Thi Hong.” [Amnesty International press release]

On June 2, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on the government of Vietnam to stop the persecution of Hong, “who has been repeatedly arrested and tortured as retaliation for informing the international community of human rights violations against her husband, who is in prison for peaceful religious activities.” [OHCHR press release]

On June 7, a joint motion was tabled in the European Parliament requesting a debate on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Vietnam: European Parliament resolution on Vietnam (2016/2755(RSP)) [EU Parliament joint resolution on Vietnam]

New Dynamic Creates Opportunity

China’s territorial expansion in and militarization of the South China Sea has Vietnam looking for friends and allies. This new dynamic gives Western democracies more leverage with Vietnam than they have had in years.

What post-Christian “progressive” Western elites need to understand is that in Vietnam, the church is integral to civil society and is at the center of virtually all humanitarian, pro-democracy, and human rights work.

Consequently, a strong defense of religious freedom is a highly strategic means of advancing humanitarian work, human rights advocacy, and capacity building to further democracy and liberty.

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Elizabeth Kendal is a religious liberty analyst and advocate. The author of two books, she publishes a weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, serves as the Director of Advocacy at Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) Canberra, and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology (MST). See: www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Desperate EU Emboldens Murderous Sudan

This post provides extra detail on the EU-Sudan deal mentioned in Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 360, “SUDAN: War and Famine, Impunity and EU Funding”, by Elizabeth Kendal, 8 June 2016.

Desperate EU Emboldens Murderous Sudan.
By Religious Liberty Analyst, Elizabeth Kendal, 8 June 2016.

Humanitarian organisations, Christian ministries and compassionate individuals that have long supported the persecuted church and other victims of Khartoum’s murderous Islamist regime – through the second civil war (1983-2005), the first Nuba Genocide (1990-1993), and now into the third civil war and second Nuba Genocide (from May-June 2011 to the present day) – will be horrified to learn that the murderous Government of Sudan (GoS) will soon be in receipt of funds from the desperate European Union (EU).

As the Sudan Tribune reports: “Sudan has been under EU sanctions since the 1989 coup d’état and didn’t receive any development aid from Europe. . . However, the European body reconsidered its position following the weaves of illegal migrants from Syria, Iraq, and Horn of Africa countries.”

On 23 March 2016, the ambassadors of the EU’s 28 member states attended a secret meeting in which they agreed to work together with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to stop the flow of refugees to Europe.

According to Germany’s Der Spiegel, “the leading diplomats that day discussed a plan that the EU member states had agreed to: They would work together with dictatorships around the Horn of Africa in order to stop the refugee flows to Europe -- under Germany’s leadership.

“. . . The EU's new action plan for the Horn of Africa provides the first concrete outlines: For three years, €40 million ($45 million) is to be paid out to eight African countries from the Emergency Trust Fund, including Sudan.” [Also includes Eritrea.]

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, laughing, 12 May 2016.
Photo: Edward Echwalu/Reuters
As the main focus of the project is border protection, “equipment is to be provided to the countries in question.”

The EU will send “cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees” to Sudan, despite the fact that the GoS is profoundly repressive and a known sponsor of international terrorism; and despite the fact that Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) is a confirmed human rights abuser known to torture prisoners.

The EU will also help train Sudanese border police and assist with “the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants”, despite knowing that GoS officials and military personnel are known to be deeply involved in the human trafficking business, including the selling of Eritrean refugees – many of whom are Christians fleeing religious persecution – to those who transport them to the Sinai where they are tortured for ransom.

According to Der Spiegel, “The German development agency GIZ [a government enterprise] is expected to coordinate the project.”

Mark Kersten reports for The Washington Post: “Sudanese officials have apparently told their German counterparts that migrants who are put into the camps will stay there indefinitely, insisting that ‘[t]he goal is that the refugees won’t leave the new camps’.”

In other words, desperate Germany will help criminal Khartoum build what are essentially two concentration camps for refugees and migrants, despite the fact that Khartoum’s government-administered “peace camps” (as the camps for displaced are called) have traditionally made receipt of food conditional upon conversion to Islam. 

Further to this, on 5 April, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, visited Khartoum to formally announce a €100 million ($112 million) aid package to Sudan. The official EU press release reads:  

“During a visit to Sudan today [5 April], EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica will discuss increased EU cooperation with Sudan on issues of common interest.  He will also announce a €100 million Special Measure for the country, to be implemented under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. . .

“The new funding will focus on reducing poverty, promoting peace and good governance, supporting the creation of jobs and improving the delivery of basic services (such as education and health) in areas affected by insecurity and experiencing large migratory flows. It will target the peripheral and conflict-affected areas such as Darfur, East Sudan and the Transitional Areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.”

So Khartoum will receive a $112 million aid package to “address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement” in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, despite the fact that Khartoum IS the root cause of irregular migration and forced displacement from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

The EU will expect Khartoum to curb migration from these conflict areas by means of reducing poverty, promoting peace, creating jobs and delivering services, despite the fact that Khartoum is actively engaged in and committed to ethnic cleansing.

Children shelter in a bunker in Kauda,
Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan.
Photo: Peter Moszynski
source: "Amnesty International says Sudanese army
committed 'war crimes' in South Kordofan"
Sudan Tribune 4 Aug 2015
Commissioner Mimica’s statement reads like a fantasy: “Our new support of €100 million will essentially focus on improving the living conditions for those who call Sudan home, helping returnees to the country to reintegrate back into society. . .” 

It is as Magnus Taylor, Horn of Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group, explained to IRIN: “Sudan is not only important as a major transit route north to Europe, it is also a producer of migrants. But if your job is to stop people arriving in Europe and to come up with a deal to reduce those numbers, then your interest in the internal politics of Sudan may be secondary.”

This desperate EU deal will embolden the murderous Islamist regime in Khartoum, which will see the deal as a green light to escalate war, jihad, aerial bombardments and the engineering of famine, along with human trafficking, forced conversions and all manner of racial and religious hatred-inspired abuse and persecution.

Some key reports:

Questionable Deal: EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out
By Jürgen Dahlkamp and Maximilian Popp, Der Spiegel, 13 May 2016.

In Attempt to Manage Refugee Crisis, E.U. Seeks to Work With Repressive African Gov’ts
By James Carstensen, CNSnews, 17 May 2016

Why the EU migration deal with Sudan is so dodgy
By Nanjala Nyabola and Obi Anyadike, IRIN, 26 May 2016

Sudan’s president was indicted. Why isn’t he paying any price?
By Mark Kersten, The Washington Post, 26 May 2016

EU considering working with Sudan and Eritrea to stem migration
By Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, and Patrick Kingsley in Istanbul, The Guardian, 7 June 2016

** The international embrace of Khartoum’s genocidal regime **
     By Eric Reeves, Sudan Tribune, 26 May 2016

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.
http://www.turnbackthebattle.com/thebook.html

Elizabeth Kendal’s new book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is presently being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be available shortly.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Vietnam Gets Green Light to Escalate Repression and Persecution

by Religious Liberty Analyst, Elizabeth Kendal, 3 June 2016

On 16 December 2015, Vietnam's internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Nguyen Van Dai (47) was re-arrested, just days after being violently assaulted.

On 10 May 2016, his wife, Mrs Vu Minh Khanh, presented her testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, chaired by religious liberty champion, Rep. Chris Smith.

After explaining that her husband has already suffered four years imprisonment (March 2007-2011) followed by four years house arrest (to March 2015) on account of his human rights advocacy, Mrs Vu Minh Khanh proceeded to plead her husband's case.

Mrs Vu Minh Khanh,  Washington, 10 May 2016
testimony: pdf     /   c-span video of proceedings
“My husband has been detained for almost 5 months now,” lamented Khanh, “yet I have not received any information about him. He is at present also not allowed to meet with any family members nor with his defense lawyers because the authorities claim that he is under investigation for ‘violating national security.’

“. . . In 2000, my husband officially began his activism and fought for freedom of religion and was a human rights lawyer. . . Thereafter, my husband provided free legal services to Christians who were oppressed based on their religion, those who fought for democracy and human rights who are harassed and detained, victims of land grabs or home lost, and to people who were physically attacked and arbitrarily detained. He lead training courses about human rights at his law office.

“. . . he always fervently tried to fight for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly through non-violent methods and through providing education on human rights. . . Throughout his human rights activism, my husband was constantly followed, threatened, harassed and beaten. My husband is currently charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code [“conducting propaganda against the state”] and faces 3 to 20 years imprisonment.

“. . . My husband has worked hard to protect human rights and these activities cannot possibly be seen as criminal. Therefore, I hope that Congress and the U.S. government will help demand for his immediate and unconditional release.

I sincerely thank you for spending time to listen to my husband’s case.”

“Epic Failure in Diplomacy”

Subsequently, on 23 May, whilst on an official visit to Vietnam, President Obama lifted the decades-long embargo on selling lethal weapons to Vietnam, without requiring any concessions in return, leaving Rep. Chris Smith to lament the “epic failure of diplomacy”.

In April 2015, Smith sponsored the Vietnam Humans Rights Act of 2015, which “prohibits U.S. nonhumanitarian assistance to the government of Vietnam in excess of FY2014 amounts unless the President certifies to Congress that the government of Vietnam has made substantial progress respecting political, civil, media, Internet, and religious freedoms, minority rights, access to U.S. refugee programs, and actions to end trafficking in persons and the release of religious and political prisoners.”

The Act also states: “It is the sense of Congress that: it shall be U.S. policy that further easing of the prohibition on the sale of lethal military equipment to Vietnam shall require Vietnam to take additional and sustained steps to advance human rights protections.”

Unsurprisingly, Rep. Chris Smith believes Obama struck a “bad deal”.

“President Obama gave up one of the few remaining leverage points that the United States has in exchange for vague promises of expanded port use by the U.S. Navy,” said Smith, who quite reasonably believes that “Vietnam would have offered the U.S. Navy port access without condition, given China’s advances in the South China Sea.”  

Phil Robertson, deputy director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch agrees. “In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of U.S. leverage to improve human rights in Vietnam – and has basically gotten nothing for it.”

While Stratfor Global Intelligence confirms that, “Hanoi is reportedly interested in U.S. helicopters, communications equipment, and possibly even used F-16 fighter jets,” the reality is, Vietnam has long purchased the bulk of its weapons from Russia, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Maybe this, and not Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, was foremost in Obama’s mind.  

A Green Light to Escalate Repression

In 2006, the State Department removed Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern, citing the release of religious prisoners and the easing of religious restrictions. Two months later, the US granted Vietnam permanent normal trade status, which paved the way for Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in January 2007.

However, as soon as Vietnam had secured its goals, repression and persecution escalated. On 6 March 2007, Nguyen Van Dai was arrested as the regime cracked down on pro-democracy and human rights advocates.  Writing in March 2007, I described the crackdown as a “watershed moment”, wherein, “Through a wave of harassments, arrests and criminal charges against human rights and democracy advocates engaged in peaceful and perfectly legal activities, Vietnam is openly showing its hand and waiting to see if anyone will challenge, or if everyone will fold.”

In giving the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam exactly what it wanted without requiring anything in return, President Obama essentially "folded", giving the regime a green light to escalate repression and persecution.

This will certainly crush the hopes of Vietnam’s more than 100 political and religious prisoners, along with their loved ones and supporters. More critically, it will embolden a brutal totalitarian regime intent on silencing a multitude of Vietnamese dissident bloggers, pro-democracy activists, human rights lawyers and religious liberty advocates . . . including, of course, Mrs Vu Minh Khanh, who soon will return to Vietnam.

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For more details on religious persecution in Vietnam, see
“Vietnam: Serious suffering as persecution escalates.” 
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB 359), 1 June 2016
By Religious Liberty Analyst, Elizabeth Kendal.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat.

Elizabeth Kendal’s new book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, is presently being published by Wipf and Stock (Eugene, OR, USA) and will be available shortly.