U.S. urged to put Vietnam back on religion blacklist

Washington, USA - A U.S. religious freedom watchdog group urged the United States on Friday to put Vietnam back on a religious rights blacklist, two years after the communist country was removed from the list.

Vietnam deserves to be treated as a serious religious rights violator because "far too many abuses and restrictions of religious freedom" remain despite the delisting in 2006 after some reforms, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in an annual report.

"Arrests, detentions, discrimination and other restrictions continue, perpetrated by recalcitrant provincial officials and abetted by the central government's suspicion of religious leaders believed to have political motives," said the report, submitted to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Washington was working with Hanoi on outstanding problems, but "actions that the Vietnamese government has taken to address some of our concerns make them a country that does not merit being included on the ... countries of particular concern list."

The Vietnamese Embassy was not immediately available to comment.

The 10-member independent panel, appointed by the U.S. Congress and the president, said the State Department should also add Pakistan and Turkmenistan to its list of "countries of particular concern" for violations of religious freedom.

Countries on the State Department list of serious religious rights violators -- which can trigger curbs on trade -- are China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

The commission concluded "there have been no improvements substantial enough to warrant the removal of these eight countries," the report said. "In many of these countries, conditions have instead deteriorated further."

Pakistan belongs on the blacklist because of inadequate government response to sectarian violence against Shiite Muslims, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus, it said. The report covered the past 12 months through April -- mostly before a democratically elected civilian government took office.

Turkmenistan merited inclusion because of police raids and harassment of religious groups and the retention of repressive laws more than a year after the death of longtime strongman Saparmurat Niyazov, it said.