Religion Bulletin, August 2021: Monks In Soc Trang Province Not Only Have To Practice Their Religion, But Must Also Maintain Security, Order

Religion Bulletin, August 2021: Monks In Soc Trang Province Not Only Have To Practice Their Religion, But Must Also Maintain Security, Order

Religion Bulletin, August 2021:

[The Government’s Reach]
Soc Trang Province: using Buddhist monks to maintain security

Now, in addition to religious activities, Khmer monks and Buddhists in Soc Trang Province have been tasked by the government with "maintaining security and order." [1]

In July 2021, 18 members of the management board of Ta An Pagoda (Thuan Hung Commune, My Tu Suburban District) participated in a model program titled "Monks and Buddhists participate in crime prevention and control to ensure security and order."

The model program consists of an executive board led by commune government cadres, with an affiliated working group that includes local dignitaries, officials, and Buddhists.

The model program was first organized at Po thi Phdok pagoda (Ke Thanh Commune, Ke Sach Suburban District) in 2019.
Dignitaries and administrative members of Po thi Phdok Pagoda participate in the model program "Monks and Buddhists participate in crime prevention and control to ensure security and order," organized in Ke Thanh Commune, Ke Sach Suburban District, Soc Trang Province.

The Government Committee for Religious Affairs has stated that the model program provides authorities with local information on security and order, and, more importantly, is expected to "prevent the abuse of religious freedom for superstitious activities".

In addition to strictly controlling religious organizations, the government also wants these organizations to become helping hands for the State, particularly in providing information, denouncing crimes, and propagating state policies.

In January 2021, Vice Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang acknowledged that in 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs had "conversed with and guided" religious organizations to elect leaders aligned with the government. [2]

In April 2021, Thang stated that officially-recognized religions have a responsibility to spread their religion in a way that did not push people toward sects. [3]

Since religious activities were unfettered in the late 1980s, the government has implemented many sophisticated policies to control religious organizations.

Religious organizations that are more submissive to the state enjoy more benefits, signaling to other organizations that if they obey, they will also receive similar treatment. Such a strategy helps the government keep religious organizations close to the state without openly using force.

Members of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs head south to manage religion

While southern provinces and cities implemented strict social distancing in the spirit of "staying in place," the Government Committee for Religious Affairs sent a working group to the south to manage religion. [4]

The group was led by Nguyen Tien Trong, deputy director of the Committee, and will work in the south from August 27 to September 15, 2021. [5]

Minister of Home Affairs Nguyen Thi Thanh Tra described the mission of the working group as including implementation of the state’s management of faith and religion; mobilization of religious organizations to contribute resources and participate in the prevention and control of COVID-19; consultation with religious organizations; and the strengthening of COVID-19 prevention and control measures in religious establishments and at gathering sites.

Tra stated that these were "important political tasks that contribute to the prevention and pushback of the COVID-19 pandemic."

The Minister of Home Affairs also stated that one of the reasons for the "assistance" is that many southern cadres in the Government Committee for Religious Affairs have fallen ill, some with COVID-19, [6] leading to a human resource shortage that has affected the state’s management of faith and religion.

Currently, nearly all southern provinces and cities have suspended group religious activities to comply with the government's strict social distancing regulations.

On August 1, 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs asked church leaders to mobilize dignitaries, officials, and practitioners to "stay in place” and said that under no circumstances should anyone leave their residences. [7]

[Religion 360*]
Catholic priests, Buddhist monks help provide care for COVID-19 patients

In August 2021, at least 487 Catholic priests, Buddhist monks, and practitioners volunteered to support southern hospitals in treating COVID-19 patients.

From August 11 to 15, 2021, 285 Catholic volunteers provided hospitals with support, including 200 volunteers in Binh Duong Province, 70 volunteers in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), and 15 nuns in Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province. [8] [9] [10]

From August 16 to August 29, 2021, Catholic volunteers continued to support COVID-19 patients and medical quarantine zones, including 108 volunteers in HCMC (16 volunteers served the District 7 Field Hospital, while the other 92 volunteers served at the Hospital for COVID-19 Intensive Care), 24 volunteers in Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province, and 70 volunteers in the city of Bien Hoa in Dong Nai Province. [11] [12] [13] [14]

In addition to Catholics, many volunteers from other religions also participated in supporting patient care. The Vietnamese Buddhist Church stated that from April to August 2021, 1,250 Buddhist dignitaries, practitioners, and volunteers registered for pandemic prevention activities. Among them, about 150 people provided support in Binh Duong, Long An, and Dong Nai provinces, as well as Field Hospitals No. 10 and 13 in HCMC. [15]

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam stated that the enthusiastic support of religious volunteers was great spiritual medicine for COVID-19 patients. [16]

[New Religions]
Government Committee for Religious Affairs: Vietnam “ready to welcome novel religions”

In June 2021, the Vice Minister of Home Affairs and head of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs Vu Chien Thang stated that moving forward, Vietnam was ready to welcome “novel religions.” [17]

Thang called the move “a natural development, saying that where there is a religion, there are followers.”

Thang made the statement during a seminar on the use and management of religious land.  Apart from this declaration, authorities have not made any other move to welcome new religions.

In March 2021, the Vietnamese government even warned citizens and state bodies about “the deceptive practices of false religions” as conducted by the Guanyin Famen, a religious sect established by a Vietnamese woman in Taiwan. [18]

An April 2021 propaganda session on religious policies and laws for ethnic minorities in Xuan Lap Commune, Lam Binh Suburban District, Tuyen Quang Province. Propaganda sessions like these are often organized for ethnic minorities to prevent them from joining unrecognized religious sects.

Informally, the Vietnamese government divides religion into two groups: official religions and “novel religions.”

In a June 2021 seminar on "false and novel religions," the Government Committee for Religious Affairs stated that “false religions” were a subset of “novel religions.” [19]

“Among novel religions are activities contrary to society’s moral standards and cultural traditions, activities that divide national and religious unity,” the report stated. “Some are even of a political stripe, violating the law and adversely affecting security and order; these are collectively known as false religions."

For years, state media has labeled religious sects unwelcome by the Vietnamese government as “false religions,” even though Vietnamese law still has no definition of what a “false religion” is. In some places, the government has mobilized citizens to sign pledges not to follow "false religions." [20]

In May 2019, the Thai Nguyen Province Mass Mobilization Committee, along with the Thai Nguyen University Party Committee, mobilized 500 students at three provincial universities to sign pledges not to participate in organizations tied to "false religions.” [21]

In July 2021, the Central Propaganda Department reported that criticizing and fighting against "the spread of false religions" is included among the "propaganda work on ethnicity and religion" in 2021. [22]

Religious sects in Vietnam face enormous pressure.

Sects with obvious political views like Falun Gong are prevented by the police from proselytizing, while the government tries to stamp out sects altogether in mountainous areas where ethnic minorities live, regardless of the organization’s political views. The government also considers Guanyin Famen a "false religion." The sect is banned in China as well.

In addition, Vietnam’s propaganda machine and state media both campaign powerfully against so-called "false religions,” making it impossible for sect members to openly criticize the government's repressive activities.

Further reading (in Vietnamese): The Government Committee for Religious Affairs says it's ready to welcome novel religions. How should you understand this development?

Police prevent four from distributing Falun Gong materials

Among new religions, Falun Gong has long remained the number-one target of Vietnam’s police

In August 2021, four women were stopped by police as they were distributing Falun Gong materials in Hai Duong and Yen Bai provinces.
Hai Duong city police blocked two women from distributing Falun Gong materials on August 2, 2021. Photo: Hai Duong City News Portal.

Hai Duong city police forced the two women, age 61 and 50, to write pledges saying that they would no longer disseminate Falun Gong materials. The two were accused of distribution in the area of Tien Tien Market, in Tien Tien Commune, and Hai Duong City on the morning of August 2, 2021. [23]
Falun Gong's promotional documents and materials were confiscated by Yen Bai city police on August 5, 2021. Photo: People’s Public Security.

The People's Public Security Newspaper reported that on August 5, 2021, Yen Bai city police caught two women, ages 72 and 65, disseminating materials about Falun Gong in the area of Nguyen Thai Hoc Ward, Yen Bai City, Yen Bai Province. Police confiscated 205 documents and materials promoting Falun Gong from the two women. [24]

Vietnamese police consider Falun Gong to be an illegal organization, although no Falun Gong organization openly operates in Vietnam. Promotional activities, such as disseminating materials and guiding exercises, are mostly done spontaneously by practitioners in provinces and cities. [25]

According to the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, about 8,000 people currently practice Falun Gong in groups at 600 sites across all provinces and cities. [26] Although the public demand to join Falun Gong is real, the government still considers religion as one of superstition and harmful propaganda.

Gia Lai province police: The Ha Mon religion has revived
Gia Lai provincial police announced in an August 27, 2021 meeting that the Ha Mon religion has revived in the province. Photo: Gia Lai Online.

On August 27, 2021, Mang Yang suburban district police reported to Major General Rah Lan Lam, head of Gia Lai provincial police, that the Ha Mon religion had been revived. [27]

“A number of people [following the Ha Mon religion] remain stubborn, secretly attending heretical meetings that affect security and order,” said a Mang Yang suburban district police officer.

At the end of 2020, Gia Lai provincial police, which considers the Ha Mon religion a “false” religion, announced that it had completely eradicated the religion from the province. [28]

Over the years, the public has become accustomed to Gia Lai provincial police repeatedly claiming to have eradicated the Ha Mon religion from the area. This new development reveals that the demand to join religious sects cannot be eliminated, even if the government harshly represses practitioners.

The Ha Mon religion, whose full name is Ha Mon Catholicism, was founded in 1999 in Sa Thay District, Kon Tum Province by a Bahnar woman named Ygyin. The sect quickly attracted followers. However, in 2013, Ygyin and several other members were convicted of undermining national unity in a mobile trial. [29] Ygyin was sentenced to 3 years in prison for taking advantage of others to establish her own religion. Other members were accused of linking with FULRO members abroad to oppose the government. They were sentenced to between 7 and 11 years in prison. [30]

After 2013, the governments of the Central Highland provinces focused on "eradicating" the Ha Mon religion, and authorities expended considerable effort convincing people not to follow the religion. For example, in 2016, Dak To Re commune authorities in Kon Ray Suburban District, Kon Tum Province forced people to sign pledges not to follow the religion. [31] By March 2020, three people said to be the last core members of the Ha Mon religion were arrested by Gia Lai provincial police after nearly 8 years of hiding in the jungle. [32]

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to The Vietnamese Magazine.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.