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May 30, 2017

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UN envoy says Vietnam still 'violating' religious freedom

HANOI--Vietnam was accused of "serious violations" of religious freedom by a U.N. expert on Thursday, despite the communist country making some progress on easing tight state control of matters of faith.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said his 10-day visit had been "unfortunately interrupted" by police and security agents.

Bielefeldt said he was "closely monitored" by police and security agents and not able to speak freely to people, in breach of the conditions of his visit.

While stressing that he had not made a comprehensive assessment of individual cases, he said "there are serious violations of freedom of religious belief taking place in this country."

Witnesses had told him of "concrete violations ... including repeated summons by police, harassment, house arrest, imprisonment, destruction of houses of worship, vandalism, beatings."

But he also noted positive developments, adding that the "space for practice (of religions) has been cautiously widened."

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters the Vietnamese government "did everything in its capacity ... to meet demands of the delegation during his visit to Vietnam."

All religious activity remains under state control but the government says it respects the freedom of belief and religion.

Religious practices were tightly controlled for decades by the communist regime but restrictions were gradually lifted after the "doi moi" economic reforms opened up the country in the 1990s.

According to the Vietnam's national committee for religious affairs, nearly a third of the population considers themselves as religious, equivalent to some 24 million out of a population of some 90 million.

Vietnam officially has 13 religions, including Buddhism, Islam and Catholicism.

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