Another country we’ve just fairly recently visited just returned this week was Vietnam.  Vietnam is an interesting example of how the international Religious Freedom Act can work.  It was designated as CPC between 2004 and 2006 and that led to real intensive negotiations between the United States and the Vietnamese, on ways that they can improve their protection for religious freedom and actually a binding agreement was established between our two governments to where the Vietnamese committed to make significant changes to their legal regime that concerns religious freedom.  Significant progress was made on account of that and in 2007 State Department removed Vietnam from the CPC list.  We believe while we acknowledge progress was made there are still many things left undone in Vietnam and by taking them off the list when they did it was premature, and so we’ve actually been recommending for State Department that they’d be added back to the CPC list as a way of focusing the Vietnamese on ensuring that religious freedom for all is protected.  In the cities we’ve seen the biggest improvements but up like in the northwest highlands, we have a lot of the minority groups that have converted to Christianity at one time or another.  She still have very problematic restrictions and we’ve seen very little indication that the Vietnamese are willing to take necessary steps to bring about improvements.

China is a major focus for the commission and last year was not a good year for religious freedom in China.  The conditions in Tibet are probably the worse they’ve been in a 10 years of the commission’s history and the piece of religious activity of Weegor Muslims continues to be clamped down upon by the government to the point that even Weegor Muslim families are basically prohibited from teaching children about their own Islamic faith.  Also unregistered catholic priests and bishops continue to be arrested and detained and unregistered Protestant adherents were arrested.  I’m sorry, more unregistered Protestant adherents were arrested in the past year than in the previous, and one reputable NGO put the number at 764 unregistered Protestants were arrested in the last year.  And of course, this was during the Olympics year when China was opening up to the world, actually had an increase and clamped down in control over this religious communities and those who control that were added still remain in place despite the Olympics had moved on.  A couple of our watch list countries are highlight.  One is Cuba, we’ve seemed to have having a reproach where the bilateral relationships improving.

We actually requested to go to Cuba and it’s difficult to get down there with the travel limitations.  We had a date set and the Cubans wouldn’t issue us our visas.  So we weren’t able to go down to see if religious freedom was an issue that Raul Castro would want to engage on and that was unfortunate.  I had a very strange situation where I was recommended that I just go to the Cuban embassy to talk about the visa issue, so I rang the front door and nobody would answer.  So I called the contact in my cell phone and he picked up and I said I’m actually outside your embassy to talk about the Visa’s and he would never let me in.  So we had like a 10-minute meeting while I stood on the sidewalk and he was in his office, and I guess that was a sign of their position on giving us Visas since we couldn’t get in to embassy.  But we still hope to go and I think it would be helpful as we tried to come up with policy recommendations for the new administration and their new engagement in Cuba so we hope that they will eventually let us in.  A country that’s been on our watch list for sometime is Egypt and there are serious problems of discrimination, intolerance and other human rights violation against members of religious minorities as well as non-conforming Muslims.