Religion Bulletin, September 2021: Hanoi Municipal Committee For Religious Affairs Concerned About New Religions Operating Over Social Media

Vietnamese authorities may face the most complicated wave of new religions ever.

Religion Bulletin, September 2021: Hanoi Municipal Committee For Religious Affairs Concerned About New Religions Operating Over Social Media

[New Religions]

[The Government’s Reach]

[Religion 360*]

[New Religions]

New religions remain a hot topic this month. Local authorities continue to cast the activities of new religions as superstitious, fraudulent, and disorderly. The phrase "false religion," not yet listed in legal documents, continues to be used by the government and the press to demean new religious groups.

New religions are increasingly centered on social media, making police suppression more difficult.

Falun Gong proselytizer stopped by police in Can Tho

The Can Tho media reported on September 25, 2021, that Binh Thuy district police stopped a 39-year-old woman from distributing Falun Gong materials in An Thoi Ward. [1]

Police took the woman in for questioning and confiscated 190 documents related to Falun Gong.

Binh Thuy district police accused the Falun Gong of "deceptively using 'qigong practice as a cure-all'" to brainwash and lure people into participating in the organization, which is not recognized by the government. This allegation is often used by police in other localities to prohibit Falun Gong’s activities.

Police advised residents to “raise their vigilance, so that they should by no means participate in Falun Gong, distribute its materials, propagandize, share, or comment on content that would abet this illegal activity.”

Hue police block activities of groups belonging to World Mission Society Church of God
A laptop, cash, a Bible, and other items belonging to the World Mission Society Church of God, were confiscated by the Hue police.

According to the People's Public Security Newspaper, Thua Thien - Hue provincial police blocked the operations of a group belonging to the World Mission Society Church of God at the end of August 2021. [2]

Police interrogated three of the group’s members, including a 28-year-old male and two women aged 25 and 18, who were all living together at a boarding house on Luong Van Can St. in Hue (An Cuu Ward, Thua Thien - Hue Province). The newspaper accused the three of organizing religious activities to collect money from participants, each of whom had to contribute 1/10th of their monthly income to the organization.

The article reported that police had accessed the computer of one of the three individuals and discovered evangelical material and the list of members "paying tithe." Police also confiscated three prayer books and about 200 envelopes containing tithe money totaling more than 66 million dong (US$2,906).

The article did not include any responses from the three accused members of the church.

As is common with state propaganda on new religions, the article cited examples of the negative consequences local residents experienced when they joined the World Mission Society Church of God, including neglect of home, ancestor worship, and their studies.

Thua Thien - Hue provincial police said that currently, there were about 220 people participating in and organizing religious activities for the World Mission Society Church of God in the province.

For years, the church has been one of many of  Vietnam’s new religious movements persecuted by the police. In many provinces and cities, the church’s activities are discreetly held in private spaces.

Hanoi Municipal Committee for Religious Affairs: Numerous false religions propagated over social media

In September 2021, Tuoi Tre newspaper relayed the recommendations of the Hanoi Municipal Committee for Religious Affairs on the missionary activities of new religions via the internet and social media. [3]

Pham Tien Dung, head of the Hanoi Municipal Committee for Religious Affairs, stated that recently new religious groups were sprouting up on social media in a bid to attract participants.

Dung accused these groups of cult activities aimed at profiteering and enticing participants to donate their wealth, purchase materials for the organization, or make charitable contributions. According to Dung, many participants are attracted to the alleged supernatural ability of these cults to treat illnesses.
Pham Tien Dung, head of the Hanoi Municipal Committee for Religious Affairs. Photo: Hoa Dat Viet.

The head of the Hanoi Municipal Committee for Religious Affairs told Tuoi Tre that new religious activities differed from those of days past, with ew religious groups using “positive, science-oriented lingo to attract followers,” such as “active living,” “meditation,” “base energy,” “energy transmission,” “human-cosmological relationships,” etc.

In another article, the Hanoi Municipal Committee for Religious Affairs stated that the World Mission Society Church of God was increasing missionary activities aimed at students via social media, in apartments, and in cafes "to avoid the authorities." [4]

The Vietnamese administration could face its most challenging time yet regarding new religions and so it is drafting new regulations to manage social media more strictly.

In July 2021, the Ministry of Information and Communications proposed a draft amendment to the government's Decree #72 on the management, provision, and use of internet services and online information. The draft contains many new regulations on controlling social media, including a stipulation that social media companies must remove information that violates the law within 24 hours and live streams within three hours of notification from the Ministry of Information and Communications. [5]

Binh Phuoc provincial police: 20 individuals participating in Hoang Thien Cach Mang The Gioi Dai Dong Party

On July 9, 2021, Binh Phuoc newspaper reported that Binh Phuoc province police were monitoring a religious group called the Hoang Thien Cach Mang The Gioi Dai Dong Party, which had about 20 individuals from the province participating. [6]

Binh Phuoc province police accused the religious group of operating a cult and asserted that 5 of the 20 people had organized and developed the organization for the sect’s leader.
A meeting was allegedly held by the Hoang Thien Cach Mang The Gioi Dai Dong Party. Photo: Binh Phuoc News.

According to the Binh Phuoc News, the Hoang Thien Cach Mang The Gioi Dai Dong Party was founded in 2006 and is currently led by a 68-year-old woman. The sect has no headquarters, and its teachings are borrowed from Buu Son Ky Huong Buddhism, documents on President Ho Chi Minh and Marxism-Leninism, and elements related to cosmology.

The group’s meetings are often blocked by the police. According to the article, a May 2021 meeting in Dong Nai Province was obstructed by police, and numerous documents related to the group's activities were confiscated. There are currently no criminal charges against members of the group.

According to the Government Committee for Religious Affairs and statistics that are incomplete as of April 2021, Vietnam currently has 85 “novel religions." Authorities regularly block the activities of new religious groups, even in private spaces such as homes and hotels. [7]

Tuyen Quang and Hanoi authorities block the Salvation Sect from operation

In September 2021, the Tuyen Quang provincial online news portal reported that police in Tuyen Quang Province, Yen Son District, and Hung Loi Commune had campaigned against ethnic minorities in the commune "to not believe and to not follow” the Salvation Sect. [8]

In the same month, the Hanoi Municipal Committee for Religious Affairs stated that the Salvation Sect was "a new type of cult infiltrating Hanoi" on social media, alongside the activities of the World Mission Society Church of God. [9]
Right: Residents of Hung Loi Commune listen to authorities explaining the law. Source: Tuyen Quang province news portal.

Tuyen Quang News reported that the Salvation Sect was a Protestant sect imported to Vietnam from South Korea. The state-run newspaper claimed that the group identified shortcomings in the Bible and promoted a liberal lifestyle, moral corruption, and criminal acts that endangered society. [10]

Such propaganda occurs not only in the case of the Salvation Sect but also with many other new religious groups. Local authorities and police often arbitrarily interpret and evaluate the correctness of new religious groups, their teachings, and their activities.

According to The Diplomat, the sect, known in English as "The Salvation Sect," began operating in South Korea in the 1970s. [11]

The Vietnamese Protestant Church (northern branch) has stated that the Salvation Sect (also known as the Eternal Salvation sect) was actively spread in Vietnam by a man named Nam, his wife, and their daughter. In May 2020, the church announced the dismissal of two superintendents in Lao Cai Province due to their teaching the Salvation Sect’s doctrine to practitioners. [12]

[The Government’s Reach]

Action plan for the state management of religion (2021-2025): Religion is still seen as a danger, source of social instability
A screenshot of the action plan for the state management of faith and religion (2021 to 2025). Photo: Government Committee for Religious Affairs. 

At the end of September 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued its action plan for the state management of faith and religion, implementing its resolution drafted at the 13th National Congress (2021-2025). [13]

Contents of the action plan show that the atmosphere for religious activities in Vietnam will remain stifled.

The state still sees religious freedom as a potential source of social instability and consequently continues to extensively interfere in religions.

According to the action plan, the Ministry of Home Affairs still believes that the State has the right to evaluate religious and faith-based activities and will only permit those religions that comply with policies, laws, the party, and the state. The plan also asserts that religious and faith-based activities must ensure social stability and contribute to national unity.

New religions in the 2021 - 2025 period will find it difficult to operate if their religious teachings and practices do not conform to the state's standards, especially those that are classified as “in opposition.”

The State continues to view dignitaries, officials, monks, and reputable people in religious organizations as its arms used to ensure that practitioners comply with the State’s laws and policies.

In particular, the state openly acknowledges its interference in the selection of personnel in religious organizations. In its action plan, the government claims that it has the authority to guide religious organizations in their selection of leaders who cooperate with the state and obey the law.

Harsh religious policing practices are often carried out in the name of social stability, but over the years, these interventions have stoked instability and division within Vietnam’s religious circles. Independent religious activities are increasingly watered down in both quality and quantity, and religious dignitaries and officials have become political propagandists for the government.

[Religion 360*]

At least 159 Catholic and 11 Buddhist volunteers participated in the efforts to fight the pandemic in HCMC in September 2021

In September 2021, religious volunteers continued to support Ho Chi Minh City’s medical teams in their fight against COVID-19, by volunteering in 5 rounds of assistance.

From July 2021 to the end of September 2021, religious organizations helped COVID-19 patients at eight different time periods.

In September 2021, there were 170 religious volunteers, including 159 Catholic volunteers and 11 Buddhist volunteers, among the four rounds of volunteering.

During the fifth round of volunteering, 109 Catholic volunteers supported COVID-19 Field Hospital #1 in District 7 and the Hospital for COVID-19 Intensive Care in Thu Duc. [14]

Four Buddhists and 19 Catholic monks and nuns contributed their efforts in the sixth round at Trung Vuong COVID-19 Hospital and the COVID-19 Field Hospital in Tan Binh District. [15]

In the seventh round, 19 religious volunteers, including seven Buddhists and 12 Catholics, supported Trung Vuong COVID-19 Hospital and the Gia Dinh People's Hospital. [16]

In the eighth round, 19 Catholic volunteers assisted COVID-19 Collection and Treatment Field Hospital No. 16, in Phu Thuan Ward, District 7. [17]
A ceremony organized by the Ho Chi Minh City Vietnamese Fatherland Front Committee for religious volunteers who supported COVID-19 patients during the seventh round. Photo: Vietnamese Fatherland Front.

Vuong Trong Hieu, deputy director of COVID-19 Collection and Treatment Field Hospital No. 16, reported that monks had helped care for, encourage, and reassure patients during their time of need, as well as actively supported doctors. [18]

The various care-taking activities of religious volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate that religious organizations have a longstanding desire to participate in social welfare activities. Such volunteerism also shows that the state needs the participation of the non-profit sector, including religious organizations, to provide citizens with a variety of social welfare services.

However, the Vietnamese government has restricted social welfare activities conducted by religious organizations for nearly 50 years. Religious organizations are not allowed to open and operate hospitals as had been done before 1975, and charity and relief activities are not easily facilitated due to strict regulations.

Further reading: 100 years of religion and social welfare: a photo series

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