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Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2002 /22 Shevat, 5762

Nat Hentoff

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Vietnam's state terrorism -- ALTHOUGH I was opposed to our involvement in the war in Vietnam, I had no illusions about the North Vietnamese government. I have been a hardcore anti-Communist since I was age 15 and read Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon," (Bantam Books, 1984), an unsparing dissection of Stalinism and all other forms of state imprisonment of individual conscience.

I also had no illusions about the corrupt, undemocratic government of South Vietnam. And long before the release of the Pentagon Papers, I knew that our government was not telling us the truth about the conduct of the war that could have prevented the loss of many more lives on both sides.

When the war was over, I was asked by human-rights activist Joan Baez and the late Ginetta Sagan of Amnesty International to join their attempts to protest the horrifying abuses of human rights by the victorious Vietnamese Communist regime.

Put in actual cages under brutal treatment were not only South Vietnamese, who had fought against the North, but also Buddhists, labor leaders and other advocates of freedom of conscience (a crime against the Communist government).

Ginetta, Joan and I had been actively involved in anti-war work here, but now, some of our fellow resisters were furious at us for publicly criticizing the very nation to which America caused so much destruction. But, as Joan said to our bitter critics, "To a prisoner, it doesn't matter what the name of the government is that hired his or her torturer." And torture was being repeatedly inflicted in those Vietnamese "education camps."

The Jan. 7, 2002 issue of Christian Today reports that the government of Vietnam, while seeking more trade benefits and international loans, continues to conduct state terrorism against those of its people who insist on thinking for themselves and adhering to their own religious beliefs.

The report points out that "underground leaders tell of police raids, church closings and torture ... The government usually reserves torture, harassment and church closings for ethnic Christians living in remote villages, such as Hmong, according to Freedom House." That human rights organization has obtained "four official documents showing that the government intends to eliminate Protestant Christianity in a district of Lao Cai province."

Last year's Amnesty International survey of Vietnam noted that "political dissidents and religious critics of the government were subjected to surveillance, harassment and denial of basic freedoms, including freedoms of expression."

Although more than 54 percent of the Vietnamese are Buddhist, Christianity Today reveals that "the government has band the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam for refusing to submit to state controls." The same unremitting persecution of Catholic churches that will not convert to official government "religious" institutions continues in China -- our permanent trading partner, thanks to Congress and the president, all of whom, of course, ardently believe in free exercise of religion.

Among people of stubborn faith in Vietnamese prisons who still, surprisingly, believe that free people somewhere in the world will come to their aid is Nguyen Hong Quang.

Arrested many times for keeping a record of government insistence on crushing Protestantism, this pastor of a Mennonite church in Ho Chi Minh City -- before being placed in a cell again last August -- urged Christians in the west to "raise their voices and pray and protest the actions" of the government. Why should only Christians raise their voices?

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom tells Vietnam to "uphold its international human rights and religious freedom commitments." The same message was sent to the Chinese government, which has been rewarded with trade advantages and the Olympic Games for doing exactly what Vietnam is doing. Will our president, occupied with our war against international terrorism, answer Nguyen Hong Quang? Are any of our clergy preaching on Sundays about the war on religion in Vietnam? What about newspaper editorial writers?

Amid the silence, how about sending letters to H.E. Nguyen Tam Chien, ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the USA, 1233 20th St. NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036. The fax is (202) 861-0917.

Were all those lives, on both sides, lost in Vietnam for this?

Last October, Vietnam's government sentenced Roman Catholic priest Rev. Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly to 15 years in prison for "undermining national unity." His crime: giving written testimony to the American Congress about religious persecution in Vietnam. He was also charged with the "public slandering" of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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