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Human Rights Peer Review of Vietnam Spotlights Persistent Rights Violations

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From left to right, Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Tin, Nguyen Dai, three activists beaten by police in August 2018. Photo courtesy: HRW.

On 22 January 2019, Vietnam underwent for the third time a comprehensive peer review of its human rights record at the Human Rights Council (a process known as Universal Periodic Review or UPR), amidst what many rights groups and observers have called the worst wave of crackdown on dissent, activism and civil society in years.

121 governments took to the floor and made close to 300 recommendations on a wide range of human rights issues. Under the rules of the UPR, Vietnam can choose to “accept” or merely “note” the recommendations it receives and must do so in writing by the time the 41st session of the Human Rights Council begins in late June 2019.

Governments have the primary responsibility to implement those recommendations that they have accepted and report progress therein in the next cycle of review.

Many of the issues raised during the third review are the subject of recommendations that Vietnam had accepted to implement or noted in the two previous UPR cycles. Critics say that Vietnam not only failed to implement them but have taken actions to the contrary.

Prior to the latest review, numerous independent civil society organizations, both inside Vietnam and internationally, submitted parallel reports to the United Nations on the non-implementation of previously accepted recommendations and the overall deteriorating human rights situation in Vietnam.

Below are some highlights of recommendations clustered by several major recurring thematic issues (the number preceding each recommendation refers to the paragraph number in the draft outcome report of Vietnam’s third UPR, followed by the name of the recommending country in parentheses):

  1. Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders
  2. Restrictive Laws and Regulations
  3. Death Penalty
  4. Discrimination, Inequalities and Vulnerable Groups
  5. Fundamental Freedoms
  6. Judicial System, Fair Trials and Due Process

Phan Kim Khanh, one of the youngest political dissidents in Vietnam. Khanh is currently serving a 6-year-prison term.

Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders

6.55 Take steps to protect human rights defenders, particularly by repealing or revising the provisions of the Penal Code that make reference to the concept of national security (France)

6.145 Immediately release prisoners who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully detained and allow them to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms in Vietnam, including Ho Duc Hoa, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and the members of the Brotherhood for Democracy (United States of America)

6.175 Release human rights defenders sentenced to prison for exercising the right to freedom of expression (Iceland)

6.177 Take the necessary measures to ensure the freedom of expression of human rights defenders and journalists, in particular by investigating and punishing perpetrators of threats and reprisals against them (Argentina)

6.180 Protect human rights defenders and prosecute all persons guilty of violence or intimidation against them (Luxembourg)

6.186 Review regulations impeding the operation of Civil Society Organisations, to enable a more open space and ensure that national security provisions are not used to prevent peaceful debate and dissent (Ireland)

6.191 Release all human rights defenders as well as political and religious activists detained for the peaceful expression of their political opinions or religious belief (Poland)

6.198 Adopt measures in line with international standards to guarantee freedom of association, opinion and expression, including online, and to ensure that journalists, human rights defenders and NGOs can freely operate (Italy)

6.202 Guarantee Fully freedom of speech, the rights of peaceful assembly and association as well as the safety of journalists, and review cases of persons convicted for having freely expressed their opinion, including human rights defenders (Switzerland)

6.203 Improve protection of the rights to peaceful assembly and expression by reviewing existing legislation, and publishing and implementing clear, transparent guidelines on security personnel conduct in managing peaceful demonstrations (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

6.205 Ensure consistent implementation of the Law on Belief and Religion particularly at the local level, including with respect to registration of Protestant groups and other groups in Northwest Highlands provinces, and remove undue restrictions on access to religious materials and clergy for those imprisoned and cease any harassment of independent groups on account of their religion (United States of America)

6.211 Publicly recognize human rights defenders and provide an environment in which they can carry out their human rights work safely (Belgium)

6.214 Nurture a culture of free expression online and offline, release all imprisoned human rights defenders, including bloggers and political dissenters, and put an end to their harassment (Czechia)

6.215 Create an enabling environment for independent civil society and ensure that the prepared Law on Association facilitates the registration, work and funding of NGOs free from undue State interference and restrictions (Czechia)

6.216 Lay ground for political plurality and democracy and guarantee its citizens the full enjoyment of the rights to vote and to be elected and to take part in the conduct of public affairs (Czechia)

A policeman, flanked by local militia members, tries to stop a foreign journalist from taking pictures outside the Ho Chi Minh City people’s court, where a human rights case was taking place in August 2011. Photograph: Ian Timberlake/AFP/Getty Images

Restrictive Laws and Regulations

6.73 Adapt the Code of Penal Procedure to international standards and amend Articles 109 and 117 on “activities against the State” in the Penal Code, in line with human rights standards (Switzerland)

6.167 Repeal or amend provisions in the Penal Code and Cyber Security Law so that provisions relating to national security are clearly defined or removed, to ensure that they cannot be applied in an arbitrary manner to endanger any forms of freedom of expression, including internet freedom (Finland)

6.171 Review all convictions based on laws restricting freedom of expression and opinion, in particular articles 79 and 88 of the Penal Code, according to the revised penalty ranges (Germany)

6.174 Consider revising national legislation, including the Law on Belief and Religion and the media Laws, in order to harmonize it with international standards regarding the right of freedom of expression and of religion (Brazil)

6.183 Amend, within one year, the 2015 Penal Code, Decree 174/2013, Decree 72/2013, Decree 27/2018, the 2018 Law on cybersecurity and articles 4, 9, 14 and 15 of the 2016 Press Law, to guarantee offline and online freedom of press and expression, and the right to privacy, in line with articles 17 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Netherlands)

6.185 Related Cybersecurity Decrees should include clear provisions for interpretation of the Law on Cybersecurity according to international standards on freedom of expression (Ireland)

6.187 Ensure that the legal framework protects freedom of expression both offline and online and accordingly amend the Penal Law and Law on Cybersecurity to ensure consistency with international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (New Zealand); Ensure that freedom of expression is protected online and offline by amending national security provisions in the Penal Code, and the Cybersecurity law and its implementing decree, so as to comply with article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other commitments (Sweden); Guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and amend the penal code and the Cyber Security Law to make sure that the limitations on the right of freedom of expression are in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Austria); Review the Criminal Code and the law on cybersecurity to harmonize it with international standards related to the freedom of expression, association and assembly (Canada)

6.188 Revise the provisions of Articles 117 and 331 of the 2015 Penal Code and other relevant laws that restrict the ability to exercise fundamental freedoms and allow free operation of national and international media (Norway)

6.193 Ensure full implementation of its international human rights obligations regarding freedom of religion and belief by reviewing the Law on Belief and Religion to bring it into line with article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Poland)

6.194 Abolish prior censorship in all fields of cultural creation and other forms of expression, both online and offline, including by bringing the restriction to freedom of expression under the 2016 Press Law in line with international standards and fostering a pluralistic and independent media environment (Portugal)

6.197 Review and amend national legislations in order to enable the effective exercise of the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in line with the standards enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Seychelles)

6.212 Review the law on religion and belief to enable religious groups to practice freely (Canada);Review the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion and bring it in conformity with international human rights standards and freedom of religion or belief standards (Croatia)

Nguyen Thi Loan, mother of Ho Duy Hai. Photo credit: Nguyen Lan Thang.

Death Penalty

6.5 Accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aimed at abolishing the death penalty (El Salvador); Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty (Montenegro); Ratify, without reservations, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (Slovenia); Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (Croatia)

6.140 Initiate a moratorium on the imposing of capital punishment and especially for non-violent crimes (Finland); Consider implementing a full moratorium on the death penalty (Georgia); Impose a moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty (Iceland); Establish a de facto moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its abolition (Portugal); Establish a moratorium on the application of the death penalty as a step towards its definitive abolition and modify the Penal Code to reduce the number of crimes for which the capital punishment can be imposed (Spain); Impose a moratorium on executions with the goal of abolishing the death penalty (Albania); Establish a moratorium on the death penalty as a step towards complete abolition of this practice (Australia); Immediately adopt a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to ultimately abolishing it (Austria); Take the necessary measures to establish a moratorium on executions of death row prisoners as well as to repeal the death penalty from their national legislation (Argentina)

6.141 Abolish the death penalty and, without delay, reduce the number of offences punishable by the death penalty (France); Abolish definitely the death penalty and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty (Luxembourg); Continue reform towards abolition of the death penalty, including by continuing to reduce the list of crimes punishable by the death penalty under the Penal Code 2015, in particular non-violent crimes, and by providing greater transparency about the numbers, methods and associated crimes relating to its use (New Zealand); Abolish the death penalty for all crimes, and consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty (Uruguay)

6.142 Further reduce the list of offences punishable by death, eliminate the death penalty for “activities against the people’s government”, “espionage”, “embezzlement”, and “taking bribes” as well as for serious drug offences (Germany); Continue to reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty and consider introducing a de facto moratorium on its application (Mexico); Continue to reduce the scope of crimes subject to the death penalty only for “most serious crimes” and consider introducing a moratorium (Norway); Continue the process of reduction of offences subject to death penalty, until the abolition of the capital punishment and to publish statistics on the use of death penalty in Vietnam (Romania); Further reduce the offences punishable by death penalty and provide official figures regarding death sentences and executions; consider to introduce a moratorium of death penalty (Italy)

6.143 Reduce further the list of crimes punishable by the death penalty, in particular economic crimes and drug-related offences, and envisage a complete moratorium on the application of the death penalty (Switzerland)

6.144 Assist the process of national discussion on death penalty with a view of its eventual abolishment (Ukraine)

6.146 Restrict the use of the death penalty to crimes that meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” under international law (Belgium)

6.290 Cease applying the death penalty for non-violent crimes, including drug offences (Australia)

6.291 Introduce a national moratorium on the death penalty, aiming at complete abolition. Until then, reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, ensuring that it does not apply to offences other than the “most serious” crimes, in accordance with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Sweden)

A group of Jarai people in Vietnam’s Highlands. Photo courtesy: Thinh Nguyen.

Discrimination, Inequalities and Vulnerable Groups

6.90 Continue efforts in eliminating inequalities in access to public services (China)

6.92 Increase efforts in addressing discrimination, in line with its international obligations, and towards improving its legal framework against gender-based violence (Greece)

6.93 Enact legislation to ensure access to gender affirmation treatment and legal gender recognition (Iceland)

6.96 Continue to conduct studies with a view to amend existing or introduce new legal instruments to eliminate all forms of discrimination against people living with HIV (Malaysia)

6.97 Take further steps to ensure the protection of all vulnerable groups in society including LGBTI persons (Malta)

6.98 Legalize same-sex marriage before the next UPR (Netherlands)

6.99 Explicitly provide “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as a forbidden ground of discrimination in the revised Labour Code and other relevant laws (Norway)

6.107 Take further measures to reduce inequalities and enhance access to services especially to vulnerable persons, including women, children and disabled (Bhutan)

6.108 Review the Labour Code and the law on gender equality to include a detailed definition of sexual harassment (Canada)

6.109 Develop legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (Chile)

6.153 Set up a robust legislative framework prohibiting and sanctioning all discriminatory practices, enabling victims access justice (Madagascar)

6.170 Take measures to combat religious motivated violence and harassment and ethnic discrimination and inequality (Brazil)

6.217 Revise the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code and criminalise all forms of violence against women, raise public awareness on gender equality and combating discrimination against women and girls, enhance efforts and measures to prevent and combat human trafficking, especially that of women and children (Hungary)

6.229 Adopt marriage equality legislation, extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples (Iceland)

6.230 Review the Law on Marriage and Family with a view to setting the same minimum age for marriage for women and men (Zambia)

6.231 Review the law on marriage and the family to guarantee the equality to same sex couples (Canada)

6.259 Step up the efforts for the participation of woman in political and public life and their representation in the decision-making bodies (Ethiopia)

6.260 Prohibit all forms of violence against women and strengthen women’s access to justice (Iceland)

6.261 Continue to strengthen measures to prevent abuse and violence against women (Japan)

6.262 Adopt a national plan of action to prevent all forms of violence against women and assign sufficient resources for its implementation (Spain)

6.263 Further invest in women’s economic empowerment and promote decent work for women in partnership with relevant international organizations (Thailand)

6.268 Implement the policy on promoting gender equality and bridging the gender gap, which focusing on enhancing the role and participation of women in the political, economic and social spheres (Cambodia)

6.284 Develop, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, community-based and people-centred mental health services that do not lead to institutionalization and over medicalization and that respect the free and informed consent of persons with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities while combatting stigma and violence against them (Portugal)

6.288 Pursue efforts to adopt national legislation to ensure further respect of the rights of migrants, to prepare the ground for the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Egypt)

6.289 Continue its efforts on prevention and reduction of statelessness through among others reacquisition of Vietnamese nationality and prevent children statelessness (Kenya)

Protest in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018. Photo courtesy: Facebook, unknown author.

Fundamental Freedoms

6.42 Enhance efforts to comply with the recommendations accepted during the second Universal Periodic Review cycle on guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression (Chile)

6.168 Take steps to guarantee freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, including on the internet, in the context of the adoption of the law on cybersecurity (France)

6.179 Protect civil and political rights, especially freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association (Luxembourg)

6.184 Restrictions on freedom of expression, and particularly online freedom, be lifted in line with Vietnam’s obligations under international law (Ireland)

6.189 Strengthen efforts to ensure the freedom of expression, including in the digital environment (Peru)

6.195 Ensure freedom of expression, including online, and promote actions to ensure freedom and independence of the media (Japan)

6.196 Continue the measures aimed at lifting all restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to allow bloggers, journalists and other internet users to promote and protect human rights (Romania)

6.199 Enhance efforts to guarantee freedom of religion or belief, also by further reducing administrative obstacles to peaceful religious activities and by combating violence and discrimination on religious grounds (Italy)

6.200 Adopt legislative changes to guarantee the protection and free exercise of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly (Spain)

6.206 Take the necessary measures to eliminate administrative barriers in order to guarantee exercise of freedom of worship (Angola)

6.207 Enact laws to provide for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Australia)

6.209 Take further steps to ensure an independent and pluralistic media landscape, including by reducing political influence on media outlets (Austria)

6.210 Safeguard freedom of religion and believe for all in Vietnam (Kenya)

6.213 Increase and ensure Vietnamese citizens’ access to information, including by increasing radio and television coverage in all parts of the country (Cyprus)

6.236 Allow for the establishment of independent trade unions and to recognize their right to organise (Canada)

Four death-row inmates from left to right, Ho Duy Hai, Le Van Manh, Nguyen Van Chuong, Dang Van Hien. Photo courtesy: Luat Khoa.

Judicial System, Fair Trials and Due Process

6.147 Ensure that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in trial in keeping with Viet Nam’s obligations under the Convention against Torture (New Zealand)

6.148 Take steps to prohibit harassment and torture during the investigation process and detention and punish the perpetrators (Togo)

6.150 Abolish immediately at all levels the exercise of outdoor trials to ensure the right to the presumption of innocence, effective legal representation and fair trials (Denmark)

6.152 Revise the judicial system to provide a safer environment to victims in case of all crimes (Hungary)

6.156 Pursue judicial and institutional reforms to bring them into line with international human rights standards (Senegal)

6.158 Ensure that fair trial guarantees and due process rights, as provided in international law and standards, are respected and upheld in all cases (Slovakia)

6.164 Amend the Criminal Procedural Code so that persons are represented by a lawyer immediately following their arrest and to guarantee their right to a fair trial (Canada)

About the Author

Shiwei Ye is an Asia-based independent human rights analyst, strategy advisor, trainer, and civil society consultant.

Religion

Updated Report on Freedom of Religion in Vietnam – December 2019

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• Focus:

  1. Police impede festivities for Pure Hoa Hao Buddhism founder Huynh Phu So’s birthday in An Giang province
  2. The Inter-religious Council of Vietnam issues letter protesting religious oppression in Vietnam and China
  3. Conference held regarding two years of implementing the Law on Faith and Religion and supplemental Decree 162/2017/NĐ-CP, which provides further regulatory details and methods of implementation

• Changes in laws regarding religion

There have been no changes and no new state regulations related to the administration of religion.

• Events involving religious organizations:

1. Police impede festivities for Pure Hoa Hao Buddhism founder Huynh Phu So’s birthday in An Giang province

On December 18, 2019, Mr. Le Quang Hien, chief secretary of the Pure Hoa Hao Buddhism Central Management Board, an organization not recognized by the state, reported that police set up roadblocks at the intersections surrounding the temporary office of the church. These actions were intended to prevent followers from gathering at the church to celebrate the centennial birthday of founder Huynh Phu So on December 20th, 2019.

Hien stated that police began setting up the post at six in the morning; they did not allow followers to pass through and kept a close watch on the committee’s members.

“These actions– banning followers from exercising their freedom of faith and preventing citizens from having the freedom of movement–are a grave violation of human rights and freedom of religion”, Hien wrote on his Facebook.

In Vietnam, religions not recognized by the state face government discrimination. The state sees these groups as high-risk and likely to carry out anti-state activities. As the operational activities of religions often involve gatherings of people, the Vietnamese state regularly prevents followers of non-state-controlled religions from gathering, violating citizens’ freedom of assembly. These obstructive actions are often carried out under false pretenses, such as plainclothes police carrying out administrative, traffic, or vehicle checks. Some go so far as to put followers and activists under house arrest.

2. The Inter-religious Council of Vietnam issues letter protesting religious oppression in Vietnam and China

On December 17th, 2019, the Inter-religious Council of Vietnam, an independent alliance established in 1990 representing five of Vietnam’s larger religions, issued a letter of protest regarding the oppression of religion and human rights in Vietnam and China.

In the protest letter, the Inter-religious Council of Vietnam asserted that the Vietnamese state implemented discriminatory policies towards independent religious groups that refused state control. The council stated that citizens’ freedom of religion and faith were being severely curtailed by the government’s Committee for Religious Affairs, the Fatherland Front, and religious groups established by the state. The state was repressing, threatening, beating, and detaining dignitaries of independent religions, and many religious premises were being threatened, confiscated, or abolished by the state.

The council also brought up the issue of peaceful democracy, environmental, and social justice activists being charged with anti-government crimes that carried heavy sentences, including journalist Pham Chi Dung, who was recently arrested on November 21st, 2019. Similarly, citizens who express opinions regarding Chinese expansionism are hindered and arbitrarily detained.

In regards to China, the council condemned the totalitarian control of Beijing’s authoritarian regime exercised over ethnic minorities, religious groups, activists, Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Tibetans. The council also touched on the issue of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, including the severe and violent repression that students and protesters faced, as well as Chinese encroachment in the East Sea (also known as the South China Sea).

The council petitioned the European Union to temporarily postpone the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement until civil and political rights in Vietnam, including freedom of religion, were guaranteed in accordance with international law.

3. Conference held regarding two years of implementing the Law on Faith and Religion and supplemental Decree 162/2017/NĐ-CP, which provides further regulatory details and methods of implementation

On December 31st, 2019, the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front and the government’s Committee For Religious Affairs organized a conference evaluating two years of implementing the Law on Faith and Religion and a supplemental decree on methods of implementation.

Beyond achievements in controlling religious activities, Mr. Vu Chien Thang, head of the government’s Committee for Religious Affairs, also stated that in the past two years, the stipulations of the law and its supplementary decree have encountered a number of difficulties: “difficulties such as state management of local-level faiths; advising, implementing, and enforcing policy and related laws that affect one another; surmounting difficulties and inadequacies related to religious land, the management and usage of church property, and the legal institutions themselves”, Thang expressed at the conference.

In practice, the last two years have seen this law and its supplementary decree only contribute to helping the state further control religious activities in conjunction with current law, rather than improve citizens’ freedom of faith and religion. Both the law and its decree allow the state to broadly and deeply interfere in the internal activities and external interactions (raising funds, accepting donations, or organizing activities…) of religious organizations.

The law and its supplementary decree divide religious organizations into two different groups. Organizations that desire recognition and legal status must accept the broad and deep interference of the state in its internal affairs, working in tandem with the government to limit freedom of religion. Other organizations refuse state control, desiring to be independent of the government in order to exercise their freedom of religion. This latter group faces great pressure and the heaviest of restraints from the government.

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Religion

Updated Report on Freedom of Religion in Vietnam – November 2019

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• Focus:

  1. The government’s Committee For Religious Affairs certifies the Vietnamese Church of Latter-Day Saints.
  2. Hoa Hao Buddhist Tran Thanh Giang is sentenced to eight years in prison for criticizing state leaders on social media.

• Changes in laws regarding religion

There have been no changes and no new state regulations related to the administration of religion.

• Events involving religious organizations:

1. The government’s Committee For Religious Affairs certifies the Vietnamese Church of Latter-Day Saints Vietnam.

Five years after the state recognized the Provisional Representative Committee, the government’s Committee For Religious Affairs issued the Vietnamese Church of Latter-Day Saints a certificate for the registration of religious activities on November 15th, 2019.

According to the Great Unity Newspaper, the Church of Latter-Day Saints arrived in Vietnam in 1962 but was forced to cease operations from 1975 to 1995.

Mr. Hoang Van Tung, head of the church committee, says there are approximately 1000 followers, mainly in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

At the certification ceremony, Ms. Thieu Thi Huong, representative of the government’s Committee for Religious Affairs, stated that the certification will create more favorable conditions for the church to move towards legal religious entity status.

The certification of a number of religious organizations as above reveals the government’s increasingly open attitude towards permitting religious activities, though the decisions still remain largely subjective rather than following any rule of law.

2. Hoa Hao Buddhist Tran Thanh Giang is sentenced to eight years in prison for criticizing state leaders on social media.

On November 27th, 2019, the People’s Court of An Giang Province sentenced Tran Thanh Giang, age 48, to eight years in prison for social media writings criticizing the government.

According to the An Giang Newspaper, on November 2nd, 2018, the Office of Culture – Information of Cho Moi district (An Giang province), in the process of information control, had discovered Giang’s anti-government writings on Facebook and reported him to police. Cho Moi district police searched Giang’s residence, confiscating 14 cell phones, 12 sim cards, and 4 memory cards.

According to the newspaper, from 2014, Giang used two phone numbers to create a Facebook account with the name “Giang Tran Thanh”. On December 12th, 2018, he changed the name of the account to “Thanh Tran”. Giang used this account to post information opposing the state, defaming the government, and undermining the state’s policy of national and religious unity.

The government printed evidence from Giang’s Facebook account (3,314 pages of documents and 99 video clips) and email (297 pages of documents) to convict him. Giang’s indictment stated that he used email to contact Nguyen The Quang and requested to join the Vietnamese Democracy Party. Quang transferred numerous materials for Giang to post on Facebook, calling for people to oppose the government.

In court, Giang rejected the Inspectorate’s accusations. He denied that the Facebook account “Thanh Tran” belonged to him. He also stated that the witnesses were not objective because they had had the previous conflict with him.

According to RFA, Giang had been an activist for years fighting for the freedom of religion. The An Giang Newspaper said Giang had twice been warned by police for opposing the local government

In the past few years, Hoa Hao Buddhists have been one of the most often and most severely oppressed religious groups in the south. Hoa Hao Buddhists have been particularly vocal about opposing the government’s strict policies controlling religion and have accepted heavy prison sentences accordingly.

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Religion

Updated Report on Freedom of Religion in Vietnam – October 2019

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• Focus:

  1. Tay Nguyen highlands – the government continues to uphold oppressive policies against religious groups that refuse state control.
  2. In the southern region – Six Hoa Hao Buddhists were assaulted by security forces on their way to prevent the roof re-tiling of An Hoa Tu temple.
  3. In the southern region – Hoa Hao Buddhist Nguyen Hoang Nam goes on a hunger strike at Xuan Loc Prison Camp.
  4. In the central coastal provinces – the government prepares to take over the educational premises of Tuy Hoa Protestant Church (in Phu Yen) at the end of November 2019.
  5. The state grants recognition to the Vietnamese Pentecostal Gospel Church.

• Changes in laws regarding religion:

There have been no changes and no new state regulations related to the administration of religion.

• Events involving religious organizations:

1. Tay Nguyen highlands – the government continues to uphold oppressive policies against religious groups that refuse state control.

Dega Protestantism and the Ha Mon religion continue to be the primary targets of elimination by security forces in the Tay Nguyen highlands.

The government believes both religions are being controlled by FULRO – an armed organization that fought for the autonomy of minorities in the Tay Nguyen highlands but which weakened and disbanded in the 90s – to oppose the state. The government believes that Dega Protestantism was established by former members of FULRO to incite people to demand autonomy in the Tay Nguyen highlands and assert the Ha Mon religion is the heresy that incites and entices many individuals among ethnic minorities.

The reality is the government solely controls the discourse surrounding these two religions. Journalists do not have the freedom to investigate the activities of religions in the Tay Nguyen highlands, and the region has become the most strictly controlled in terms of religious activities.

According to the government’s Committee for Religious Affairs (which belongs to the Ministry of the Interior and directly administers tasks to do with religious security), the Ha Mon religion began developing in 1999 in the two provinces of Kon Tum and Gia Lai, with approximately 3,500 followers. The followers of the Ha Mon religion conduct their religious activities in small groups in private residences, similar to Catholic protocol, rather than in a government-sanctioned church. The activities of the Ha Mon religion were seen by the authorities as disruptive of order and security and needed to be halted. In 2013, the founder of the Ha Mon religion, Ms. Y Gyin of the Bana ethnic group, was sentenced to three years in prison along with seven others who were sentenced to a maximum of 11 years in prison, for undermining national unity (Article 87 of the 1999 Penal Code).

According to the Gia Lai Newspaper, the police of Phu Thien district in Gia Lai province asserted that FULRO was secretly operating in 81 hamlets and villages in the district and needed to be wiped out. District police believe that activities which involve crowds, like weddings, funerals, and birthdays, need to be strictly monitored, as these events serve as covers for unauthorized religious activities that oppose the state.

After the large-scale protests in the 2000s (and up to 2012) related to religion and land, the government’s oppressive activities have spread to religious groups. The government refuses to accept any religious activities that lay outside of its control. Religious groups, principally Protestants and Catholics, have suffered severe government oppression as they demand their right to freedom of religion.

According to our sources, in the last two months or so, approximately three families fled across the border from the Tay Nguyen highlands to Bangkok because of religious oppression. Currently, there are more than 500 individuals of ethnic minorities who are refugees in Bangkok, Thailand and another group of more than 20 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The common forms of government harassment towards religious groups in the Tay Nguyen highlands include:

  • Halting any activities involving groups of people, even if they are not religious in nature
  • Preventing individuals from leaving their home hamlet or village
  • Monitoring the daily activities of all individuals
  • Placing individuals under house arrest on days in which there are religious activities
  • Regularly coming to homes to interrogate individuals or interrogating those who recently returned from other areas
  • Illegally arresting and holding people in custody
  • Torture, beatings
  • Refusing to carry out administrative procedures for a number of families
  • Hunting down and imprisoning those who flee across the border for religious reasons
  • Punishing individuals by giving them jail sentences

2. Six Hoa Hao Buddhists were assaulted by security forces on their way to prevent the roof re-tiling of An Hoa Tu temple

At approximately 2 AM on October 7th, 2019, on the day that the roof of An Hoa Tu temple was going to be re-tiled, six Hoa Hao Buddhists (Vo Van Thanh Liem, Le Thanh Thuan, Nguyen Thanh Tung, Cao Thi Thu Ba, To Van Manh, and Le Thanh Truc) were ambushed as they were on the way to An Hoa Tu temple to prevent the roof re-tiling. As the six arrived at the Thuan Giang ferry landing, approximately a kilometer away from An Hoa Tu temple, they encountered a group of individuals who were there waiting for them. This group proceeded to beat the six Buddhists in order to prevent their arrival at the temple.

Mr. Vo Thanh Liem, age 79, spoke to RFA regarding the assault: “Today [October 7th, 2019] they took the roof tiles off the church, but the church itself remained untouched. Yesterday, they stacked [the tiles] outside the gate, same today. As we arrived at the Thuan Giang ferry landing, about 40-50 individuals blocked us, beating Mr. To Van Manh, Mr. Le Thanh Thuc, and Ms. Nguyen Thi My Trieu; my niece Vo Thi Thu Ba had her phone smashed. Realizing that they were going to beat me as well, I poured gasoline on myself and threatened to end things on my own terms, after which they left. They used long sticks, beating people so hard, the sticks smashed to smithereens.”

Other Hoa Hao Buddhists also saw that a crowd of security forces was watching over the stacks [of tiles] around An Hoa Tu temple as the roof tiles were being replaced. On October 9th, 2019, Hoa Hao Buddhist Le Tan Tai was held down and assaulted by security forces, who took his phone after believing that he was planning to record the roof re-tiling of An Hoa Tu temple. Tai said he was further slapped in the face by a female plainclothes police officer. Leaders of Pure Hoa Hao Buddhism were also kept under house arrest during the days of the An Hoa Tu temple roof re-tiling.

The conflict surrounding the renovation of An Hoa Tu temple demonstrates the government’s overreaching interference in the internal affairs of a religion. Religious groups that do not accept government control are not only vulnerable and unable to freely operate but are also assaulted for expressing their opinions. Religious groups that accept state control are protected by security forces, are provided budgets, are allowed to carry out religious activities, and become a force to help the state manage religion as a whole. This disparity in treatment tends to exacerbate rivalries between the different branches of a religion.

3. Hoa Hao Buddhists dispute the re-tiling at An Hoa Tu temple

After disagreement regarding the roof re-tiling of the An Hoa Tu temple, the followers of Pure Hoa Hao Buddhism (PHHB) continue to oppose the Hoa Hao Buddhism Central Management Board – which has supervisory rights over An Hoa Tu temple and is the only Hoa Hao Buddhist organization recognized by the government – regarding the replacement of bricks that are still intact at the home temple.

The followers of PHHB assert that the recent activities regarding the renovation of An Hoa Tu temple are a gradual attempt to completely change the original state of the home temple. They state that this will alter the home temple’s historical markers.

4. Hoa Hao Buddhist Nguyen Hoang Nam goes on hunger strike at Xuan Loc Prison Camp in Dong Nai province

According to RFA, the wife of Mr. Nguyen Hoang Nam, a Hoa Hao Buddhist and a prisoner serving his sentence at Xuan Loc Prison Camp, reported that Nam went on a hunger strike for six days, from October 11th – 17th, 2019 to protest his transfer from the area for political prisoners to a cell for drug-related criminals.

Mr. Nguyen Hoang Nam, a 37-year-old Hoa Hao Buddhist, chose to practice his religion independent of the state. He was sentenced to four years in prison in 2018 for disturbing public order, along with four other Hoa Hao Buddhists, one of whom was sentenced to one year of prison for obstructing officials. According to Human Rights Watch, these verdicts were intended to punish those Hoa Hao Buddhists who demanded religious freedom and refused state control.

Current conditions in prisons are deplorable, though on the whole, political prisoners are able to enjoy better conditions than normal criminals. However, they can be punished by being transferred to cells with less desirable conditions.

The following prison conditions need to be improved:

Using the same water source for eating, drinking, showering, and washing clothes

Meals that are low-quality, unclean, or lack essential nutrients

Prisoners being unable to maintain daily bodily hygiene

Prison cells which are hot, lacking in sunlight, or overcrowded

Prisoners not receiving sleeping nets and suffering mosquito bites

Unreliable health care

The price of food and commodities that prisoners can buy at the canteen being 2 to 3x the market price

Prisoners being overworked

5. The government prepares to take over the educational premises of Tuy Hoa Protestant Church (in Phu Yen) at the end of November 2019.

According to the Tuy Hoa Protestant Church of Phu Yen province, the provincial government issued a notice that it was reclaiming a piece of church land in November 2019. The land, which contained the educational premises of a church at 65 Nguyen Hue, Tuy Hoa city, Phu Yen province, was earmarked for the construction of a pre-school.

The piece of land is under 1000 square meters and includes classrooms and school grounds; it has since belonged to the church before 1975. The church agreed to let the local government borrow the grounds in 1978 to open an elementary school and a pre-school. From then on, the government refused to return the land, creating a deed and merging the piece of land with the school in 2014. At the beginning of 2019, the municipal government issued a decision to construct Hoang Yen Public Pre-school on the piece of church land, without any negotiations on compensation.

The church reverend, the Tuy Hoa Protestant Church, and parishioners all opposed the city’s decision. According to RFA, the church opposed the decision by unfurling protest signs. Afterward, provincial police called the reverend down to the station many times to confiscate his banners and threatened to expel him from the province.

Currently, the Tuy Hoa Protestant Church remains concerned about the fate of their piece of land, fearing that it will be reclaimed unconditionally and lost permanently at the end of November 2019.

6. The state grants recognition to the Vietnamese Pentecostal Gospel Church.

Ten years after being permitted to operate, the Vietnamese Pentecostal Gospel Church was recognized by the state as a religious organization on October 24th, 2019, in Ho Chi Minh City.

The Vietnamese Pentecostal Gospel Church was established in the south in 1972. However, after 1975, the church stopped operating after suffering government oppression; followers were forced to practice in their own homes. In 1989, the church was reinstated and operated under close government supervision. It was not until October 2009 that the government agreed to legalize the church by issuing it a permit to operate.

7. Conference held for the 2019 third quarter briefings re: the state administration of faith and religion in the cities and provinces of the central coast and the Tay Nguyen highlands

On October 9th, 2019, the government’s Committee For Religious Affairs along with the People’s Committee of Khanh Hoa Province organized a conference for the 2019 third quarter briefings regarding the state administration of faith and religion in the cities and provinces of the central coast and the Tay Nguyen highlands. The conference brought together the home affairs offices of 17 provinces and cities.

Although it was a conference related to the administration of religion, the Internal Security Office and the Military Region 5 Command also attended.

According to Khanh Hoa radio and television, the administration of religion in the final months of 2019 will focus on: continuing the roll-out of the Politburo’s Directive #18 regarding religious tasks in new situations; stepping up the check of land-use certificates for religious premises, and discovering and handling new religious phenomena that adversely affect local order and security in a timely manner.

The Politburo’s Directive #18 regarding religious tasks in new situations is a directive that still has not been announced to the public. This conference reveals that the government still views unauthorized religious activities as contrary to the law, attempting to tie them to such concepts as “heresy”, “spiritual deviation”, “superstition”, and “disruption of security and order”.

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