Just two days before US President Joe Biden and his entourage arrived in Hanoi, human rights activist Nguyen Bac Truyen was released from Vietnamese prison on September 8, 2023, five years earlier than his sentence, and along with his wife, Ms. Kim Phuong flew to the Federal Republic of Germany, where they are forced to live in exile.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the release of Nguyen Bac Truyen, a Hoa Hao Buddhist, religious freedom advocate, and human rights defender. Vietnamese authorities had detained him since July 30, 2017 on spurious charges.
“It is with great joy that we celebrate the release of Nguyen Bac Truyen, who served more than six years of unjust imprisonment,” USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie stated. “When USCIRF visited Vietnam in May, we had the privilege to meet with his wife, Bui Thi Kim Phuong, herself a champion of religious freedom. We are elated that he is safely with her now.”
Nguyen Bac Truyen is a legal expert and head of the Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association, which assists prisoners of conscience and their families. Truyen was first arrested in November 2006 and sentenced to three years and six months in prison on charges of “conducting propaganda” against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; he was released in May 2010. He was again detained in July 2017 while working for the Catholic Redemptorist Church, which provides legal assistance to victims of land expropriation and health services to more than 5,000 veterans of the former Republic of Vietnam. He was sentenced in April 2018, to 11 years’ imprisonment, followed by three years of house arrest for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”
Leading up to Nguyen Bac Truyen’s release, UCSIRF published a country update on Vietnam and held a hearing on challenges and opportunities for religious freedom. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who advocates for Nguyen Bac Truyen as part of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project, provided remarks during USCIRF’s hearing on Vietnam. Within days after the hearing, President Joseph R. Biden travelled to Vietnam and met with President Vo Van Thuong, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and other Vietnamese government officials. During President Biden’s U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, they discussed the importance of bilateral cooperation to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief.
“USCIRF is grateful to the U.S. Department of State and the German government for their efforts in facilitating Nguyen Bac Truyen’s release and safe departure. We are also pleased to see President Biden raised the importance of freedom of religion or belief while he was on an official state visit in Vietnam,” added USCIRF Commissioner Eric Ueland. “We continue to call on the Vietnamese government to release all remaining religious prisoners of conscience still imprisoned, and to stop targeting religious freedom advocates and believers. The Vietnamese government communicated during USCIRF’s visit that the religious diversity of Vietnam is an asset to celebrate, but this celebration must enable, not preclude, independent advocates and followers.”
In its 2023 Annual Report, USCIRF called upon the State Department to designate Vietnam a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in part for its detention of religious freedom advocates. In May, USCIRF visited the country to assess freedom of religion and belief conditions.