Blacklist Vietnam for abuse of religious freedom: US panel

Washington, USA - A US commission on Wednesday called for Vietnam to be reinstated on Washington's blacklist of countries which violate the right to religious freedom.

"We recommend that Vietnam be re-designated as a CPC (country of particular concern) in 2007," the US Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in its annual report.

It said that since Hanoi was taken off the blacklist in November 2006 and it joined the WTO "positive religious freedom trends have, for the most part stalled" amid a crackdown on human rights activists.

The authoritarian Southeast Asian nation was taken off the US State Department's list of countries of particular concern (CPCs) on the eve of a visit to Hanoi by President George W. Bush.

At the time, the US commission voiced disappointment at the decision "citing continued arrests and detentions of individuals in part because of their religious activities and continued severe religious freedom restrictions targeting some ethnic minority Protestants and Buddhists."

It recognized there had been positive religious freedom developments by the ruling Communist Party with the release of prominent religious prisoners and the end to enforced renunciations of faith.

But added such improvements were "insufficient" and it had been "too soon to determine if the legal protections would be permanent and whether such progress would last beyond Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organization."

The commission also recommended that 10 other countries be kept on the list: China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.