Vietnam soon faces the UN’s review compliance on the implementation of the 1984 United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), which it became the 81st signatory on November 7, 2013.
Despite a showing of strong commitment from the Vietnamese Ambassador to the UN at the time of signing, Le Hong Trung, who condemned all “acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of persons and to better protect and promote fundamental human rights”, police brutality and death in police detention remain some of the most urgent social issues in the country today.
Less than a year since the Vietnam’s National Assembly ratified UNCAT in November 2014 and submitted the ratification to UN on February 5, 2015, 17-year old Do Dang Du died from injuries to the head and body while being held in police custody at Chuong My District, Hanoi on October 10, 2015. His death shocked the nation.
14 lawyers immediately petitioned to the Minister of Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the Chief Procurator of the Supreme People’s Procuracy, and the Chief of Hanoi Police Department to get the details of his arrest and detention.
As it turned out, Du’s death might have been avoided because he was not supposed to be detained at all.
According to some of the lawyers from this group of 14 who petitioned to review his case, under Section 2 of Article 303 of Vietnam’s Code of Criminal Procedures, a minor being alleged to have committed a “less serious” crime, such as theft, was supposed to be released on his own recognizance. Du’s mother confirmed that he was arrested in August 2015 for stealing two million VND (about 90 USD) from a neighbor and taken into police detention, where he was held until taken to the hospital due to injuries from a physical assault in early October 2015.
Yet, Chuong My District Police stood by and continued to affirm that their detention of Du for some two months was done according to laws. However, other facts surrounding this case compelled people to question police’s involvement in Du’s death and demanded more answers.
First, while Du’s three teenager cellmates were arrested and charged with the assault and battery which caused his death, their reasons for getting into an altercation with Du failed to convince the public and Du’s family. The main perpetrator, Vu Anh Binh, also 17-year old, confessed that he had assigned Du to wash their dishes, but because Du did not wash them well enough, leaving them still dirty, Binh got angry and beat him up.
Du’s family then retained two attorneys, Le Luan and Tran Thu Nam, from the group of 14 to represent them in the matter of their son’s death, but the lawyers soon became victims of physical violence as well. On November 3, 2015, attorneys Luan and Nam were assaulted by a group of eight thugs on their way to visit Du’s mother. The victims identified one of the perpetrators to be Chuong My District police officer Cuu, and they also told the media that they believed the police had followed them since they agreed to represent Du’s family.
Speaking to BBC News – Vietnamese edition at the time, Attorney Tran Quoc Thuan, former Deputy Director for the Office of the National Assembly, demanded that an independent investigation unit should have been convened to invest the police officers of Chuong My District to avoid conflict of interest. Attorney Thuan also mentioned to BBC that some 226 people had died in police custody in recent years.
Attorney Thuan’s claim was based on Vietnam MPS’ own representation to his former employment, the Office of the National Assembly, in 2015 regarding deaths in police custody from 2011-2014, which curiously was not mentioned by the Vietnamese government in their report submitted in July 2017 to the UN regarding the first year of implementing UNCAT from 2015-2016.
However, in the report to the UN, the government did admit deaths and other incidents of police brutality indeed happened. But the numbers from the government, of course, are nowhere near 226. In fact, it is difficult to decipher the exact number from the 51-page report, which also did not include any allegations of death in police detention that Vietnamese newspapers and social media had reported in 2015 and 2016.
What more disturbing is the fact that the report from the Vietnamese government delineates the reality that police brutality often goes unpunished. Impunity is at the heart of this problem, and the government has yet to demonstrate they have dealt with it efficiently.
For example, Paragraph 100 of the report stated: “From 2010 to 2015, People’s Courts had not handled any cases regarding the obtainment of testimony by duress and bribing or forcing another person to give false testimony or provide false documents”.
Further, it provided that in the same five-year period, the Vietnamese courts “only handled and tried 10 cases with the total 26 defendants who committed torture offenses”. Eight out of those 10 cases involved police officers and prison’s guards. (In Vietnam, prison’s guards are also police officers because according to the laws, the MPS has direct control over all prisons in the country).
Even when police officers were prosecuted and tried for having committed torture of suspects and/or prisoners, they often received very light sentence. Take for example the case of four police officers of Dak Trung prison in Dak Lak Province, listed in Annex 11 of the Vietnamese government’s report to the UN, none of the police officers involved in a prisoner’s death while in their custody was handed actual prison terms.
These four police officers admitted to using “corporal punishment” on a prisoner, Truong Thanh Tuan, during the morning of September 23, 2010. Tuan died on the way to the hospital the very same evening from “respiratory distress syndrome and cardiovascular collapse”. The officers were tried and convicted of “using corporal punishment” under Article 298 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, and their sentence was the minimum “penalty of warning”, which translated into “no jail time”.
Paragraph 45 of the report, the government acknowledged that their laws allow for many other penal code provisions to prosecute criminal acts that carry “torture nature”, some are specifically applicable to police officers, such as “causing death to people in the performance of official duties” (Article 97), “inflicting injury on or causing harm to the health of other persons while performing official duty” (Article 107), “ill-treating other persons” (Article 110), humiliating other persons (Article 121). Vietnam’s laws also allowed for charging perpetrators with multiple offenses for committing the same criminal conducts.
But in reality, the same report also showed that Vietnam’s justice system had not prosecuted any of the listed perpetrators with multiple charges, even when their laws allow for it. In all of the reported cases, the police officers were charged and tried for only one crime, “using corporal punishment” under Article 298.
Taking into consideration the facts and the applicable laws, people have to ask why the offending police officers were not charged with any other crimes besides “corporal punishment” and thus always received just a slap on the wrists for causing serious injuries and even death to suspects and prisoners?
The difference between only charging the offenders with one crime instead of multiple crimes in Vietnam is quite large, and we could see it by studying the facts in one of the most talked about cases involving police brutality in the past five years, the case of Ngo Thanh Kieu of Phu Yen Province.
According to the government report, the 20-year-old Kieu was arrested for theft in the morning of May 13, 2012. He was then interrogated by several police officers of Tuy Hoa District, Phu Yen Province that day, where he was handcuffed and beaten. He was interrogated multiple times on the same day and continued to be interrogated even after showing obvious signs of physical assault. By 5:40 pm, Kieu died on the way to the hospital from injuries to the head which had caused drama to his skull.
While the involved officers were tried and sentenced to prison from nine months to eight years, they were charged, again, only with “applying corporal punishment” under Article 298. Moreover, the highest-ranking officer involved, Le Duc Hoan, Deputy Head of the Investigation Agency of Tuy Hoa District Police, was only charged with “negligence, causing serious consequences” while carrying out official tasks.
It was Hoan who had ordered the other police officers to conduct the interrogation of the victim even after Kieu had shown signs of suffering rounds of physical assault during the first questioning. Yet in the end, it was also Hoan that received the lightest sentence of nine months and was allowed to serve it on probation, meaning he did not have to spend a single day in jail.
The government’s report to the UN also failed to mention that two of the five defendants appealed and got their sentences reduced sufficiently in September 2016. Nguyen Than Thao Thanh was sentenced to eight-year imprisonment but got reduced to five years, while Nguyen Tan Quang’s two-year imprisonment became two-year probation.
Had they been charged with all of the criminal provisions applicable to their illegal conducts, the offending police officers who caused the death of Ngo Thanh Kieu could have faced up to 30 year-imprisonment on a combined sentencing under Article 50 of the Penal Code if convicted.
The story of Ngo Thanh Kieu is not the last to tell about torture and police brutality in Vietnam. In 2017, I have documented nine cases where people died in police detention from January 2016 to September 2017. To date, no one had yet been prosecuted in relation to these cases.
As long as the problem with impunity continues to be as serious as police brutality in Vietnam, it seems that there is still a long way to go for UN CAT to be effectively implemented. At the very least, however, Vietnam should begin aggressively investigating, prosecuting, and trying the perpetrators according to the standards of their current laws, where multiple charges should be filed against those who committed such horrendous crimes against the victims’ basic human rights and took away their most sacred one, their right to life.
LIV Launches Database on Religious Freedom in Vietnam
On July 17, 2020, Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV) launched its Database on Religious Freedom in Vietnam.
LIV is a non-profit organization based in California (United States) and is the organization that oversees both Luat Khoa Magazine and The Vietnamese. You can find more information about LIV and the reason the organization is based in the United States (and not Vietnam) here.
With this regularly-updated data, LIV hopes to begin documenting cases related to religious freedom, both past and present.
It could be an issue related to the land dispute between the Tuy Hoa Protestant Church and Phu Yen provincial authorities. It could be the trial of an ethnic minority member from the Central Highlands who practiced Dega Protestantism or trials for those who promoted Falun Gong.
It could also be the conflict between Hoa Hao Buddhists in An Giang Province regarding the restoration of the An Hoa Tu Temple or the scuffles between unaffiliated Hoa Hao Buddhists and local police.
Currently, when you access this data, you will see 19 cases (among them, more than 20 events involving Falun Gong practitioners have been combined into one case), with more than 91 victims or persons directly involved. Other cases are still being updated.
To expand the number of readers, this data content will be presented in English. After consulting the Q&A information below, you can access data regarding freedom of religion here: www.liv.ngo/data
Why did LIV put together this database?
The multi-faceted religions of Vietnam are a national point of pride, and the strength of religion and faith has contributed to the ability of Vietnamese to persevere through difficult periods in history.
After April 30, 1975, however, many people became victims of the Vietnamese state’s harsh religious policies.
Although the strict control of religion has gradually decreased over time, the state still maintains a tight spiritual grip on religion. Activities that lay outside government control or that allegedly do not support the government’s efforts to build “national unity” are all seen as illegal.
As an organization that primarily conducts journalism, LIV has encountered many difficulties in evaluating the situation regarding freedom of religion and faith in Vietnam. Unlike cases involving freedom of speech or other political cases, those involving religion are generally not known or else fall into obscurity. For cases that are known, information is spotty and lacking. We believe that other press and human rights organizations also encounter similar problems.
Because of this, our initial data is created by compiling information regarding cases related to religious freedom in a systematic way. We hope this data can be a useful source of information for journalists, activists, as well as readers who care about the right to freedom of religion.
How was the data compiled?
The compiled data is based on information coming from sources such as local and foreign journalists, as well as from human rights organizations.
Furthermore, where such arrangements can be made, LIV will directly gather information from the people involved.
Database information only includes cases reported by journalists and those people directly involved. We will not provide our own viewpoints regarding these cases.
We hope readers will contribute information about cases that they are familiar with. For directions on how to contact us, please see the section “How Can I Provide Information?”
How do I read information from the data table?
Readers can view the data using the Air Table tool. This is an interactive spreadsheet tool that makes it easy to find information without having to switch tables.
When you open the link www.liv.ngo/data, you will see four tables: 1. Case, 2. People (victims), 3. Case Timeline, and 4. Supporting Documents.
For information about each case, you only need to read Table 1. All information in the other, remaining tables are connected to this first one.
In Table 1, you’ll see the name of each case in the first column, with the relevant information added across rows.
In the next four columns, you can filter cases according to more detailed information: Related religion, Issues, Location, and Status, by pressing the “Filter” button and entering the information you want filtered.
For example: if you want to find cases that occurred in An Giang Province, press “Filter”, choose “Location”, and pick the province of “An Giang”.
In the three columns near the end of Table 1, including People, Case Timeline, and Supporting Documents, you can see that the information here is colored. With these three columns, you can click on the phrases in each cell to view more detailed information.
For example, if you want to read more information about individuals related to the case of Rlan Hip, an ethnic Jrai sentenced to seven years in prison for disrupting national unity, you can press on his name in People (victims) in Table 1. Information about the victim, Rlan Hip, will appear as follows:
The People section includes the personal information of relevant individuals, such as birthdate, ethnicity, identifying photographs, gender, and activity timelines.
Case Timeline provides chronological summaries of cases based on information from sources that we have quoted in the penultimate column of Table 1.
Supporting documents can be videos, photographs, or any materials related to each case.
Similarly, you can also filter data by Table 2. People (victims) to look at information according to gender, ethnicity, religion, and criminal prosecution.
How can I provide information?
We hope you can contribute to this religious freedom database as much as possible. Tell us about cases involving religious freedom that you know about or are directly involved in.
Readers can send us information through this link: bit.ly/vuviectongiao. We’ll reach out to you as soon as possible to gather more information. You can also provide us information anonymously. Information provided will only be used for this religious freedom database and will not be given to any third party.
As we compile and present data, it will be difficult to avoid errors, and we hope readers can take a little time to contribute their thoughts. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Religion Bulletin – May 2020
The Report on Religious Freedom in Vietnam is published on the second Monday of each month. If you would like to contribute information to the report, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
This report will provide information on other legal provisions outside of the Code on Religion that also limit the right to freely practice religion in Vietnam, such as the regulations regarding publication as stated in the section [The Government’s Hand]. As in previous reports, you can read prominent news regarding religious freedom in [Religion 360°], in which a few followers of Falun Gong were fined when they passed out flyers that the government deemed to be illegal. [On This Day] retells the story of Vietnamese Montagnards escaping to Cambodia in 2015. Under [Did You Know?], you can also learn about the dramatic decrease of the number of people who follow Hoa Hao Buddhism and Cao Daism during the past 10 years.
The Government’s Hand
Imagine that you were in a photocopy shop to print some flyers about religion such as advising people to believe in Christ, or even simpler, promoting fasting and meditation under a religion that you trust.
You have printed the flyers and will pass them out to your relatives, neighbors, friends, and even strangers who sit in the park. A few minutes later, the police come and detain you. They even take you to the police station to interrogate you, and if you voluntarily performed those acts, the police will confiscate all of your flyers and cite you for an administrative violation.
That is what has happened to Falun Gong proselytizers who were arrested and fined when they passed out flyers that the government had not approved. From March to May 2020, there were at least 22 Falun Gong adherents who were arrested because they possessed and passed out flyers promoting their religion (find the detailed story in the [Religion 360°] section).
This is the method that the Vietnamese government uses to control the publishing of religious materials.
Regulations Regarding Publication under Vietnam Laws Contributed to a Tightening of the Freedom of Religion
Under the Law on Publication 2012, Vietnam does not allow independent publishers to register and operate. Publication can only be done by those who hold permits that were issued to governmental departments, civil society organizations, and associations controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party.
In practice, publishing houses in Vietnam often obtain permits for book stores and book companies. Even though we can say that publication activities are getting easier in Vietnam, it is not the same situation with sensitive topics such as politics and religion.
The Law on Publication 2012 did try to open up the regulations about providing permits for materials that are “given, gifted, or lent” (Article 4), which were not clarified in the previous code of 2004.
The materials that were being deemed as “given, gifted, or lent ” all had to be permitted to be published. If not, the publisher could be fined for violating Article 27 for publishing and disseminating materials that were not allowed under Decree 159/2013/NĐ-CP.
The Law on Publication 2012 also stipulates that the government forbids “publishing, printing, and disseminating” any materials that are deemed to be “superstitious” (Article 10). At the same time, only governmental departments regulating culture and religion may decide whether a material is superstitious or not. As a result, the label of “superstitious” is being applied to almost all of the new religions and beliefs in Vietnam.
Concurrently, the government also regulated that the Committee for Religious Affairs has the sole authority to “publish Bibles, prayer books and mantras, religious teachings, fiction and religious readings produced by religions that are allowed to be practiced in Vietnam”.
Individuals Do Not Have the Right to Publish Religious Materials
The recent arrests and administrative fines given to Falun Gong proselytizers have been widely published in the state-owned media and serve as a warning to individual citizens that they do not have the right to distribute materials without the state’s consent, especially religious materials.
On the other hand, the Law on Publication 2012 also stipulates that besides governmental departments and organizations belonging to the Communist Party, only businesses and entrepreneurs may apply for permits to distribute published materials (Article 36). Distribution also includes materials that could be “given, gifted, or lent”. This regulation allows the government to administratively fine individuals who distribute materials, including even those that were already permitted.
Therefore, if an individual person wants to print, sell, or just distribute freely a published material, then he or she could be fined administratively or could be prosecuted under the Penal Code. For example, the government could deem such material as information that opposes the regime.
Facing strict government rules and regulations regarding publishing, the new religions are continuously finding different ways to publicize their beliefs while being classified as “cults” by the regime.
Being forbidden to distribute materials, new religious groups have found other ways to disseminate their beliefs, with social media being the most common method.
Phap Mon Dieu Am (in Vietnamese), a new religion founded by Master Ruma, has been rising in popularity over the past few years, and has a YouTube channel with more than 24,000 subscribers and over 9 million views. People who want to follow Master Ruma can fill in an online form and wait for a “messenger” of this sect to meet with them in person and instruct them on how to practice their religion.
At Least 22 Falun Gong Proselytizers Arrested
From March to May 2020, there were at least 22 Falun Gong proselytizers detained and fined administratively in 12 provinces and cities throughout Vietnam.
These people were arrested because they possessed flyers with information about Falun Gong and also content accusing the Chinese government of suppressing this spiritual movement.
There was an increase in the number of arrests after the Committee for Religious Affairs announced to all provinces and cities that “cults and extremist religions” have taken advantage of COVID-19 to promote their beliefs.
However, a few Falun Gong practitioners that we interviewed told us that practicing and promoting Falun Gong were just a voluntary act.
According to news reports in Vietnam, these arrests were made because the people had passed out flyers without government consent, according to the Decree involving news media and publication.
After they were arrested, each person had to pay a fine according to their own conduct and based on the flyers and the other materials that they had used to promote their beliefs. In Ha Tinh Province, a man was fined 25 million dong when he was found to be in possession of several boxes of Falun Gong materials. In Vinh Long Province, a 41-year-old woman was fined 4 million dong after she was found to have passed out four books containing information on Falun Gong at a bank.
The central government of Vietnam has yet to decide on whether to consider Falun Gong as a religion in the country. However, in a few provinces, the local authorities have already deemed Falun Gong a cult and so not authorized to practice in Vietnam.
There are still no statistics specifying the number of Falun Gong proselytizers in Vietnam, but some of the members believe that their population is rising.
However, the news media in Vietnam describes the Falun Gong with skepticism, asserting that the Falun Gong movement is illegal and also against science so the media continues to publish propaganda to discourage people from following it.
The number of Falun Gong adherents arrested in provinces and cities:
|Province Name||Number of arrests|
|8||Ho Chi Minh City||1|
|12||Ba Ria – Vung Tau||1|
The Government Refusal to Issue a Passport to a Catholic Priest
On May 29, 2020, Father Nguyen Van Toan wrote on his Facebook page that he received a notice from the government rejecting his application for a new passport.
Father Toan stated that he accidentally found out that the government refused to provide him with a passport because the Hanoi police accused him of conducting activities against the State.
Father Nguyen Van Toan is a 40-year-old priest of the Redemptorist Church, Thai Ha Parish, Hanoi. He often criticized the government publicly at his masses and he was once arrested when he protested in Hanoi.
The Family of a Prisoner of Conscience Ho Duc Hoa: The Nam Ha Prison Reduced Hoa’s Prayer Time to just Once a Week
The Association to Protect Freedom of Religion said on May 25, 2020, that the family of prisoner of conscience Ho Duc Hoa informed them during a telephone call from prison that the Nam Ha Prison in Ha Nam Province, had reduced his time to read his Bible and pray. He is now only allowed to pray once a week, compared to before when the prison allowed him to pray every day.
Ho Duc Hoa, 46, was tried in the beginning of 2013 with 13 other young activists who were either Catholics or Protestants for subversion against the state. While his co-defendants were sentenced to between two and four years in prison, Ho Duc Hoa was handed a harsh 13-year sentence.
RFA reported in August 2019 that Ho Duc Hoa’s family received a letter from him in which he complained about his deteriorating health, complaining about a stomach problem, an enlarged intestine, as well as high blood pressure, hemorrhoids, and also vertebrae problems. Between May and August 2019, Nam Ha Prison denied Ho Duc Hoa’s request to go to a hospital for a medical examination.
Restrictions on the time to read the Bible or other religious books are often reported by prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.
[On This Day]
Vietnamese Montagnards Who Fled Vietnam to Cambodia Rejected for Political Asylum
In May 2015, the representative of the Vietnam Border Defence Force in Dak Lak Province confirmed that many Montagnards had fled from the Central Highlands to Cambodia.
Colonel Nguyen Luong Hoa, the political commissar of the Border Defence Force in Dak Lak Province, claimed that Vietnamese Montagnards were being lured to Cambodia to fight against the Vietnamese government.
According to human rights organizations LICADHO and Human Rights Watch, in March 2015, the Cambodian government confirmed that it had recognized 13 Montagnards from Vietnam as political asylum seekers at the end of 2014. However, Cambodia rejected about 100 other Montagnards who also fled from Vietnam, including 54 people who were forced to return to Vietnam during the early months of 2015.
In January 2015, a representative from a local human rights organization in Cambodia informed AFP that about 13 Montagnards crossed the border from Vietnam. These refugees stated that they ran away from Vietnam to Cambodia because they were fleeing oppression at home.
In May 2015, a group representing Ratanakiri Province of Cambodia, which shares a border with Gia Lai Province of Vietnam, traveled to discuss some issues with the provincial governments of Central Highlands. During this meeting, the two sides also talked about regulating the number of Montagnards fleeing from Vietnam to Cambodia.
The Montagnards are an indigenous people living mainly in the Central Highlands among 20 ethnicities. Beginning in the 2000s, Montagnards continuously crossed borders to flee Vietnam and escaped to Cambodia and Thailand for political asylum.
These Vietnamese refugees stated that they were suffering a lot of oppression from the government with regard to their religious rights, land rights, poverty and racial discrimination. If they raised their voices to object, they would be persecuted. However, the Vietnamese government said that the refugees fled the country because they were lured into an anti-state scheme or because of economic hardship.
The Central Highlands is a dangerous mountainous area and so the government has tried to isolate the people in that region from the rest of the population in the country. Until this day, independent journalists and human rights defenders could hardly contact the people who live in the Central Highlands due to these above-stated reasons.
[Did You Know?]
Cao Daism and Hoa Hao Buddhism Have A Lot Less Followers Nowadays
Both of these religions were established during the time the French colonized the south of Vietnam, and they attracted many followers for decades up until 1975.
Cao Daism Suffered a 76 Percent Decline in Followers During the Last 10 Years
In 1930, the Cao Dai religion had about 500,000 to 1 million followers when the entire population of the south of Vietnam was about 4 to 4.5 million, according to the records collected by Jayne Susan Werner and sent to the Governor-General of French Indochina on December 14, 1934.
According to the Committee for Religious Affairs, from 1930 to 1975, followers of the Cao Dai religion grew steadily to about 2 million.
However, based on an article in the Los Angeles Times, probably using information collected prior to 1975, there may be as many as 4 million Cao Dai followers. This number seems to be correct if one looks at all of the Cao Dai temples from the south to the central provinces of Vietnam.
Yet in 2009, the Committee for Religious Affairs estimated that Cao Dai followers in Vietnam numbered only 2.4 million people.
From the census in 2019, the population of Cao Dai followers has fallen to 556,234 people, a 76 percent reduction since 2009.
Hoa Hao Buddhism Suffered a 31 Percent Reduction of Followers in the Last Decade
Just like Cao Daism, Hoa Hao Buddhism has suffered a reduction of the number of its followers during the last 10 years.
In 2009, the Bureau for Religious Affairs of Can Tho City confirmed that there were 1.43 million Hoa Hao Buddhists in Vietnam. However, in 2019, the number of Hoa Hao Buddhists had fallen to 983,079 people, a 31 percent drop from the year 2009.
Before 1975, there were 2 million Hoa Hao Buddhists living in the west of South Vietnam, concentrated in An Giang and Chau Doc provinces.
What Caused the Reduction of Followers?
We could not find any report that offered reasons relating to the drastic reduction of the followers for these two religions. We believe the reason for this reduction could be as follows:
1. The harsh government control over these two religions
After 1975, the new regime tried to erase these two religions but it was forced to recognize Cao Daism and Hoa Hao Buddhism after it failed to eradicate them. The government recognized Cao Daism in 1997 and Hoa Hao Buddhism in 1999.
The independent followers of these two religions often stated that the regime only allowed the followers that obeyed government instructions and controls to become the leaders of the two “official” and “recognized” associations for Cao Daism and Hoa Hao Buddhism.
After 1975, the activities of these two major religions were significantly restricted by the government. Followers could no longer conduct charity work and education and missionary work were also forbidden, preventing the two religions from being practiced as freely as before.
More than that, the government implemented strict punishment of any followers who opposed the government’s handling of religions, such as applying the Penal Code or suppressing and harassing critics on a daily basis.
After the government recognized these two religions at the end of the 1990s, it also clarified how it would keep them from expanding. The religious practices of these two religions were once celebrated widely in the south of Vietnam, but are now restricted locally with strict controls by the government.
2. Young People Distance Themselves from Religion
The education system in Vietnam has always discouraged the discussion of religions and religious activities in society.
Educational books often teach children about loyalty to the Communist Party and to follow the law, but they rarely discuss traditional values and religious beliefs within the community.
The mass media is controlled by the State and newspapers, television and radio also do not discuss religion.
We do not have statistics on the number of followers of these two religions during different times, but the current government policy is to try to stop them from developing through the enactment of a numbers of drastic rules and regulations to control religious practices.
3. Identification Cards Are the Only Method for Counting Followers of Specific Religions
All identification cards in Vietnam specify a person’s religious affiliation.
In reality, to reduce potential problems involving religion, such as being discriminated against in recruitment to some governmental departments or joining the Communist Party, many families may declare that they are not members of any religion even though they actually follow a religion.
On the other hand, some police officers put down “no religion” when processing identification cards for people, possibly to reduce the number of followers of a religion or to reduce its influence.
Religion Bulletin – April 2020
The Report on Religious Freedom in Vietnam is published on the first Monday of each month. If you would like to contribute information to the report, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
April’s [Religion 360°] will cover the month’s main religious developments, including the arrest of three ethnic Bahnar followers of the Ha Mon religion, the arrests of numerous Falun Gong proselytizers, and a number of other stories. We look back at the April 2004 protests over land and religious freedom in the Central Highlands in [On This Day]. And finally, [Did you know?] will discuss the custom of ancestral worship, which was almost wiped out after 1975.
Three ethnic Bahnar arrested in March 2020 with no connection to FULRO
According to Health & Life newspaper, three ethnic Bahnar, Ju,56, Lup, 50, and Kunh, 32 were arrested by Gia Lai provincial police on March 19, 2020, in a matter unrelated to FULRO (Front United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races) operations.
Kunh revealed to investigators that he was not directed or supported by FULRO forces, and that he had only kept in contact with an individual named Y Khoet, who was a follower of the Ha Mon religion in Kontum Province.
According to the above article, beginning in July 2012, the three arrested men would hide deep in the jungle during the day and then sneak into the village at night to talk to young people about the Ha Mon religion. On March 19, 2020, police arranged the capture of all three.
Many arrested for propagating Falun Gong after the Government Committee for Religious Affairs warned that “new religions may take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic”
At the beginning of April, the website of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs announced its request to all provinces and cities to be on-guard for and prevent “extremist religious sects” from taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “assemble and incite large gatherings of people”.
The announcement also stated that provinces and cities needed to prevent people from transforming their residences into houses of worship, as well as organizing illegal collections of money for religious sects.
According to Procuracy, the online newspaper of the Supreme People’s Procuracy, at the end of March and beginning of April, Ha Tinh provincial police arrested and administratively punished four women and one man for illegally propagating Falun Gong as they distributed masks and religious pamphlets to residents.
Nghe An Newspaper also reported that three women were arrested and administratively punished at the end of March for illegally propagating Falun Gong.
In mid-April, provinces and cities made announcements regarding the supervision and prevention of activities by new religious sects, which they referred to as “strange religions” and “heresies” on their websites.
Similar to Khanh Hoa Province, Dak Lak provincial authorities reported that the “strange religions” in the region were: the “Supreme Master Ching Hai organization, Falun Gong, and the activities of extremist Protestant religious sects (such as the “Church of God and Heavenly Mother”, “Saving Grace”, “The Graceful Path”, “New Heaven and Earth” and otheres).” Besides these new religious groups, Binh Thuan provincial authorities also identified a number of others, such as the Buddhists of Miraculous Sound, Religion of Consistence, and the Supreme Order of Dragon & Flower.
Authorities of Hoa Binh Province in northern Vietnam announced that they are assigning the provincial Bureau of Internal Affairs the task of determining which illegal religious activities are those of “religious groups”, “assemblies”, and “religious organizations”.
Venerable Thich Tue Sy to lead the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam
On April 18, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam announced the decision of the former Fifth Patriarch Thich Quang Do regarding the transfer of full church leadership powers to the Venerable Thich Tue Sy.
According to this decision, once Venerable Thich Tue Sy meets the requirements, he will convene an extraordinary assembly on behalf of the Patriarchal Institute to elect all positions in Hoa Dao Pagoda.
The Venerable Thich Quang Do signed the decision on May 24, 2019, before he passed away February 22, 2020. The signing ceremony was recorded, and Venerable Thich Tue Sy was present with many others.
Venerable Thich Tue Sy
Birth name: Pham Van Thuong
Birthdate: February 15, 1943
Entered monastery: 1950
Native region: Quang Binh Province
According to the Lotus Library, Venerable Thich Tue Sy is an erudite scholar of philosophy and Buddhism. He is fluent in many foreign languages and has contributed to the translation of many foreign books.
Before 1975, he participated in teaching and management at Van Hanh University. In 1984, he was arrested along with other monks while protecting the university after the authorities confiscated the property to turn it into Su Pham University. He was imprisoned until 1988, when he was sentenced to death for attempting to overthrow the state and establish a revolutionary organization. In 1998, his sentence was reduced, and he was released. According to RFA, he was kept under very strict house arrest until 2004.
7 Catholic priests punished for violating COVID-19 social distancing orders
According to VnExpress, on April 16, 2020, Ha Tinh Province decided to administratively punish seven Catholic priests for assembling parishioners for prayers during the government-ordered social distancing period.
The authorities stated that on April 4 and 5, six parishes in Ha Tinh organized prayer sessions for hundreds during church ceremonies.
Each priest was fined from 5 to 7.5 million dong (US$216 to US$325).
Government social-distancing orders were in effect from March 28, to April 22, 2020. During this time, religious activities and assemblies were greatly restricted; many instead took place on social media.
On This Day
Large protests in the Central Highlands, April 2004
In April 2004, Vietnamese journalists reported that protests had broken out on April 10–11 in the three Central Highland provinces of Dak Lak, Gia Lai, and Dak Nong.
According to VnExpress, approximately 10,000 people participated in the protests on those two days.
The VnExpress article, along with other state newspapers, reported that local residents rode farm vehicles and motorcycles carrying deadly hunting weapons, swords, sticks, crossbows, and rock. The protestors caused riots by destroying property and stealing food items along the protest path.
The chairman of the Dak Lak Province People’s Committee, Nguyen Van Lang, asserted that these riots were organized by FULRO forces demanding the establishment of a separate, autonomous state.
However, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the primary reasons for the riots were harsh religious policies, unjust land policies, and government failure to guarantee social welfare in the Central Highlands. After protests in 2000, police launched several large waves of suppression against locals who wanted to practice independent religions.
Describing the method of suppression, the chairman of the Dak Lak Province People’s Committee stated: “In the latest event, we simply used the riot police and self-defense militia to restore order. After we gathered the women and children together, we explained to them that we had directed buses here to drive them directly back to their villages, so they could return to their normal lives.”
However, according to HRW, police used excessive force, killing 8 local people on the streets, while many others died behind bars.
The authorities did not announce the number of arrests after these protests. Nevertheless, an article in Vanguard Newspaper reported that in the last two months of 2004 alone, Gia Lai provincial police had arrested 146 local people with alleged ties to FULRO.
Siu Wiu, an ethnic Jrai, was forced to undergo extrajudicial re-education for participating in the 2004 protests. He stated to us that he went through re-education with 180 residents of Gia Lai. They had to labor heavily from morning to night while lacking sufficient food and shelter.
After the protests in 2004, the Central Highlands remained the site of many other protests by locals demanding religious freedom and the right to own land.
Did You Know?
Ancestral worship was abolished by the state after 1975 but was later revived as a national tradition
After the Saigon government fell in 1975, folk religious activities in the South were seen as “meaningless ceremonies”, “superstitions”, or “old-fashioned customs”. Ancestral worship was one of many activities that the state tried to abolish.
In the North, spiritual activities began to be abolished in 1940 after the Communist Party began to control a number of northern areas. In 1994, a study showed that for every 35 Vietnamese families surveyed (including those of cadres), only one family worshipped its ancestors. 
Research has revealed a number of reasons why the state limited or prohibited many religious activities after 1975:
- It believed religious activities were “superstitious”, “backwards”, and limited human capability by convincing people to believe in the mystical.
- It saw the worship of dead people as a “meaningless ceremony”.
- It believed religious activities were a tool of the feudal class to exploit the people.
- It believed faith and religious activities were tools used by foreigners to take advantage of the masses and control the country, because ultimately, religions and faith practices in Vietnam all originated from overseas: Catholicism and Protestantism are both from the West, and Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism entered Vietnam from China.
According to Professor Philip Taylor, though they were prohibited, folk religious activities continued on in multi-faceted fashion, especially when the government opened up its doors to enact “Doi Moi” (economic and political reform in the mid-1980s).
In the late 1990s, government policy regarding faith and religion began to be researched for carrying out reform. The following reasons convinced the government to place religious and faith activities under its strict control:
- The ideology behind proletarian revolution was no longer effective in the era of globalization, especially as Communism collapsed across the world.
- The Vietnamese economy cratered when the government tried to centralize it.
- Vietnamese state researchers pointed out that faith and spiritual activities contributed effectively to building nationalism, especially ancestor worship.
- Ancestor worship had also been used to maintain the legitimacy of the Communist Party, such as to “give thanks” to “revolutionary heroes” who sacrificed themselves for national independence.
- The desire to attract overseas Vietnamese back to their homeland to re-invest and support relatives. Ancestral worship activities were encouraged to draw overseas Vietnamese back to their homeland.
In 2004, after nearly 30 years of abolishing customs and ceremonial offerings, the state officially recognized faith activities, but through a different lens.
According to the National Assembly’s 2004 Decree #21 regarding religion and faith: “Faith activities are activities that express the worship of ancestors; commemorating and honoring those who have served the country, the community….” Article 5 of this Decree affirms that ancestral worship is a national tradition.
See more: Vietnam after April 30th, 1975: how “superstition” became “national character” – Part 2
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