Twelve Vietnamese members of the Cao Dai religious sect arrested earlier this week remained in the custody of municipal police on Thursday with no sign that they would soon be released, deported or charged with a crime.
“We have no plan to deport them or send them to the courts,” said Chum Sokha, deputy chief of the municipality’s foreigner police department. “We are waiting for the decision from the high officials.”
Police arrested the six men and six women Tuesday as they marched down Mao Tse-tung Boulevard in white religious robes towards a meeting of Asean lawmakers at the Hotel InterContinental, where they hoped to deliver a petition calling on Vietnam to let them worship freely. They confessed to entering the country illegally and held no passports, police said.
Vietnam has denied that the Cao Dai are oppressed and said it would not interfere with the Cambodian government’s handling of the case.
The four-page Cao Dai petition, obtained on Thursday, called on the UN and “any country that cares about human rights in Vietnam” to help the Cao Dai, who, the petition stated, are restricted from traveling and worshipping freely.
In reference to Vietnamese authorities, the petition says, “Their mouths talk about freedom, but all the people’s rights have been violated.”
“Please save us and bring back freedom for the people who follow Cao Daism,” it adds.
The letter, written in Vietnamese and signed by Minh Chau, leader of the 12 now in police detention, also lauded Cambodia for its religious freedom.
A US report on religious freedom issued Thursday said Cambodia “generally respects” freedom of religion, while Vietnam “maintained supervisory control” of recognized religions because it “fears that not only organized religion but any organized group outside its control or supervision may weaken its authority and influence.”