Religious Persecution in Vietnam
Man Thi Jones has been under a form of house arrest near her ancestral village in Vietnam for nearly seven weeks. She was detained Oct. 5, and since then has undergone almost daily interrogations by Vietnamese officials. She is ill, alone, running out of money - and undoubtedly dismayed by the fact that police seem to be rounding up her relatives. Her crime? Distributing ball-point pens with Christian crosses on them.
Such religious persecution is not unusual in Vietnam - where, as in all Communist dictatorships, religion is rightly regarded as a danger to rigid state control. Vietnamese Christians have been arrested and sentenced to years of hard labor for, among other things, singing hymns and reading the Bible. The persecution had actually been diminishing as Vietnam sought better relations with the U.S. in the early 1990s. But that was before Bill Clinton decided to end the trade embargo - at least in part, it now turns out, at the urging of his Indonesian money men, who had financial interests there. Unsurprisingly enough (at least to anyone prepared to look honestly at communism), the relative good times for Christianity ended abruptly once the government had achieved its goal of getting the embargo lifted. Since 1994, Vietnamese Christians have been as much under the gun as ever.
Man Thi Jones' case is not, however, just another case of Vietnamese religious persecution. Because - having met and married an American serviceman during the war and been naturalized in 1975 - Mrs. Jones is an American citizen. And she's an American citizen who for weeks was more or less left by the U.S. State Department to the tender mercies of Vietnam's travesty of a legal system. As one spokeswoman at State's Bureau of Consular Affairs anonymously told the Sacramento Bee, "If an individual has apparently distributed material in contravention of [Vietnamese laws against distributing religious material], we would allow the legal process to continue." It will hardly reassure Americans concerned about their country's approach to international leadership to note the similarity of that statement to the one issued by the Vietnamese embassy: "Anyone who misuses the freedom of belief or religion," it announced, "[by] carrying out illegal activities which infringe on state interests or public interests should be judged in accordance with the existing laws of Vietnam. …