Vietnam, which faces frequent criticism from abroad for violating religious freedoms, respects the religious beliefs of its citizens, President Nguyen Minh Triet was quoted May 7 as saying.

“Religion and belief are spiritual needs and are part of our people. They will be with us for the entirety of our socialist construction process,” Triet said at the weekend, the state Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

Triet was speaking during a meeting Saturday with prominent Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, who lives in exile after being barred from Vietnam by the former southern regime and the post-1975 communist government.

The 81-year-old monk, who first returned to Vietnam two years ago, has built an international following from his monastery in France. Last month, he prayed for post-war reconciliation with thousands of Buddhists outside Hanoi.

Hanh’s visits have been criticised by the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), whose leaders are under house arrest and who charge that Hanoi is using Hanh’s visits for propaganda purposes.

Last week, a US commission called on Vietnam — which keeps a tight check on all religious activity — to be reinstated on Washington’s blacklist of countries violating religious freedoms.

In March, a dissident Roman Catholic priest, Nguyen Van Ly, was jailed for eight years after a court convicted him of spreading propaganda against the communist state.

In the coming week, three other trials of dissidents are expected to begin in the capital Hanoi and southern Ho Chi Minh City.
Source: Agence France Press (AFP)