Religion Bulletin, December 2021: Government Committee For Religious Affairs Wants To Determine Direction Of The Vietnamese Buddhist Church

Noteworthy religious news in the final month of 2021

Religion Bulletin, December 2021: Government Committee For Religious Affairs Wants To Determine Direction Of The Vietnamese Buddhist Church

Dear readers,

This is the bulletin summarizing the religion-related events that have occurred in the last month of 2021. For the last year, we have published 12 monthly bulletins on the state of religious freedom in Vietnam. We hope to raise your concern for the complicated situation that religion faces in the country.

In 2022, we hope that your concern for religious freedom deepens. Your attention to the issue will help religious communities become more self-confident as they fight for their rights. That fight is not only relevant for them but will also contribute to a free society, tolerant of differences.

We wish you a peaceful new year, and if you’re able, please contribute to independent journalism.
Vice Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang and the leaders of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs (GCRA) confer the national flag to representatives of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church in 2020. Photo: Ministry of Home Affairs. Graphic: Luat Khoa.

[The Government’s Reach]

GCRA wants to determine the direction of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church

On December 28, 2021, GCRA organized a seminar titled “Operational status of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church today – Problems to consider”. [1]

The seminar brought included 20 presentations by scholars and researchers.

An article describing the seminar on the GCRA website reported: “At the seminar, many professional opinions confirmed a number of existing issues in the functioning of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church today, such as those involving the training of monks, internal solidarity, and manifestations of spiritual deviation and moral decay among a portion of dignitaries and the monkhood.”

A number of other presentations posited directions for the church’s development and staffing.

A photograph of the seminar did not show the participation of monks from the Vietnamese Buddhist Church, and the GCRA article did not include any input from the church.

Vice Minister of Home Affairs, Vu Chien Thang, stated that this seminar, in conjunction with others to come, will help to determine the direction of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church’s development.

The Vietnamese Buddhist Church has been the only Buddhist organization recognized by the state for the past 40 years, and among religious organizations, it has shown the most closeness with and attachment to the government.

The state grants the church special privileges regarding land and the construction of massive faculties. In recent years, the church has encountered vocal public criticism for a number of activities deemed materialistic, superstitious, and destructive to the environment.

The nature of the seminar and the above statement by Vu Chien Thang once again confirms the government's desire to strictly control religious organizations. It also demonstrates the government's position on religious activities: they must be approved by the state, a requirement that seriously hinders the natural development of religions in Vietnam.

GCRA organizes a seminar on supporting religious activities of Vietnamese overseas

On December 22, 2021, the GCRA organized a seminar on the religious activities of Vietnamese overseas, with the presence of the State Committee on Overseas Vietnamese. [2]

The seminar, whose full name was “Supporting religious activities associated with preserving and promoting national culture among the overseas Vietnamese community,” had the participation of dignitaries from numerous religions.

An article on the seminar reported that participants discussed the current state of religious activities and proposed solutions to help overseas Vietnamese with religious activities related to national culture.

The seminar is possibly part of the GCRA’s 5-year cooperative project with the State Committee on Overseas Vietnamese, drafted in 2020.

This cooperation is based on the 9th Politburo Resolution #36-NQ/TW, on working with overseas Vietnamese.

Nguyen Dinh Thang, the president and CEO of the human rights organization BPSOS based in the United States, believes that the focus of the resolution is to infiltrate overseas Vietnamese religious communities. [3]

Before signing the agreement between the GCRA and the State Committee on Overseas Vietnamese, the two leaders of these two bodies uniformly agreed that it was necessary to fight and control the activities of overseas Vietnamese who misrepresent the Vietnamese government on religious issues. [4]

Ministry of Home Affairs approves proposal to establish Holy Mother Tam My Ca Cistercian Monastery

On December 20, 2021, the GCRA approved a proposal by the Vietnamese Union of Major Superiors to establish the Holy Mother Tam My Ca Cistercian Monastery in Cam Hoa Commune, Cam Lam Suburban District, Khanh Hoa Province. [5]

The monastery has existed for decades, having been established in 1934. It is an autonomous monastery belonging to the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen. After 1975, the monastery experienced numerous upheavals related to its land and function.

According to the Saigon Archdiocese webpage, in July 1977, the Vietnamese government asked the monks to leave the main monastery (handing the premises over to the authorities) and move to the monastery's farm in Cam Hoa Commune, which today is the monastery itself. [6]

The Vietnamese Missionaries in Asia website states that nearly all of the monastery’s facilities and land have been confiscated by the state since 1977. For an extended period of time and under extremely difficult conditions, the monastery has continued to operate. [7]

The 2016 Law on Faith and Religion currently maintains procedural disadvantages for religious organizations, especially small ones. Nearly all activities by religious organizations must be registered with and approved by the state before they can be carried out, and even approval of valid registrations is not certain, as it is based entirely on the government's subjective assessment.

[New Religions]

Tuyen Quang: Authorities attack, arrest followers of the Duong Van Minh religion during the funeral of its founder

According to an RFA report, on December 12, 2021, Tuyen Quang provincial authorities sent hundreds of security officers to the funeral of Duong Van Minh, the founder of a religion bearing his name. The incident led to an altercation and multiple arrests. [8]

Approximately 48 individuals were apprehended from December 12 to 15. The following timeline details how the event unfolded, according to information from RFA:

December 11, 2021:

  • Founder Duong Van Minh passes away in a Hanoi hospital from lymphoma. His body is brought home for burial in Ham Yen Suburban District, Tuyen Quang Province.
  • Residents report that authorities set up checkpoints, ostensibly for COVID-19 prevention, to prevent followers of the Duong Van Minh religion from attending the funeral.

December 12, 2021:

  • Followers report that a security force of approximately 300 individuals, including police and riot officers, arrived at Duong Van Minh’s funeral. Many followers recorded videos of the event, while others were arrested.
  • Officers stormed into Duong Van Minh’s house to forcibly test family members for COVID-19, on the grounds that the driver carrying Duong Van Minh's body was infected with the virus. At the same time, they also examined Minh's body, moving it to the commune's meeting hall.
  • 35 individuals were arrested, according to the religion’s followers.
Riot police and personnel dressed in protective medical gear attack religious followers at the funeral of founder Duong Van Minh. Photo: RFA.

December 13, 2021:

  • Approximately 100 followers gathered at the commune meeting hall to protest the prior day’s attack and the desecration of the founder’s body.
  • According to followers, the authorities allowed riot police in to attack them.
  • 9 individuals were arrested.

December 15, 2021:

  • Over loudspeakers, authorities demand that four individuals give themselves up for the crime of obstructing officials. The four surrenders are held at the commune committee.

The incident raised concerns about the authorities potentially using violence to crack down on any religious communities they disagree with. Finding ways to hinder religious activities, quarreling with believers, escalating matters to physical altercations, and arresting, even jailing protesters are common government practices.

In 2018, six independent Hoa Hao practitioners, four of whom were family members, were sentenced to anywhere from two to six years in prison for disturbing public order and obstructing officials. These practitioners were regularly harassed by local authorities. The entire episode began on April 19, 2017, when police set up a checkpoint to inspect the vehicular documents of practitioners on their way to attending a death anniversary, and a scuffle broke out. [9]

Conflicts involving independent religious groups are not adjudicated fairly by judicial bodies. As such, the state uses the above behavior as an effective tool to suppress religious freedom.

Violence against independent practitioners in mountainous areas is very serious; due to fear of reprisals, many practitioners do not report incidents to the press or foreign human rights organizations.

On December 31, 2021, the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Superior People’s Court held an appellate trial and upheld the preliminary sentences meted out to the three defendants of a murder case in which two bodies were buried in cement. [10]

One defendant received the death penalty for murder, one was sentenced to 13 years in prison for murder and failure to report a crime, and the third was sentenced to 19 years in prison for murder and concealment of a crime.

The case began in May 2019, when two bodies were discovered in a concrete-filled plastic container at a home in Binh Duong Province.

Initially, state media spread  rumors that practicing Falun Gong led to the murders, as evidenced by the following articles:

However, by the time of the preliminary trial in June 2020, many state-run newspapers no longer touched on Falun Gong in their articles, e.g. Lao Dong [Labor], VietNamNet. [14] [15] The articles only quoted the defendants describing they created their cultivation practices by themselves.

Falun Gong practitioners in Vietnam have protested against state media claims that the case was a consequence of practicing their spiritual movement. However, the overwhelming press coverage of the religion from the outset has had a great impact on public perceptions.

In October 2021, even Hoang Xuan Truong, the deputy head of the Cao Bang Province Internal Security Office, believed that practicing Falun Gong was wrong and cited this murder case in his argument. [16]

Investigative bodies acquire and provide information to the state press. The miscommunication, in this case, reveals that the authorities took full advantage of the opportunity to discredit Falun Gong – a movement that the Vietnamese government regularly condemns and curtails. It also demonstrates the ability of the authorities to manipulate information related to religious activities.

Numerous state-run newspapers criticize “NLG Energy Source” for propagating a false religion, superstition

In December 2021, numerous domestic newspapers simultaneously voiced their criticism of an internet-based healing group called "NLG Energy Source," created by a Vietnamese-American.
The Vietnamese-language website of “NLG Energy Source”. Photo: screenshot.

Ha Tinh News reported that the group was “propagating a false religion.” [17] The Public Security News called the group's method(s) superstitious and deceptive. [18] VTV e-newspaper stated that Hanoi and HCMC municipal authorities were investigating the group, and the Ha Tinh Province People’s Committee had requested authorities to eliminate any groups practicing the above method(s) in the province. [19]

Pham The Dung, head of the Hanoi municipal GCRA, reported that the group’s classes were free but that students had to spend 130,000 dong (US$5.72) to purchase books for the course. During the course of study, the group asked students to contribute funds to develop the community. [20]

“The sale of books and the call for donations show signs of abusing people’s trust and their desire for medical treatment to profiteer,” Dung stated to VOV newspaper. [21]

The book teaching the method, titled Stem Cells - Your Very Own Doctor, was once published in Vietnam by World Publishing House. However, by September 2021, it had ceased publication of the book. [22]
Le Van Phuc, founder of NLG Energy Source and editor of its guidebook. The book was once allowed to be published in Vietnam. Photo: VOV.

The GCRA has yet to comment on the group's activities.

Current information on the group indicates that it operates mainly over social media. Its Facebook group has more than 204,000 participants, and its website states that practicing its method(s) will help students improve their physical and mental health in impressive ways. [23]

In June 2020, Phuc was appointed head of the NLG Energy Source Department at the HCMC Consultation Center for the Application of Human Potential, under the Research Institute of Applied Human Potential. However, in October 2021, this appointment decision was rescinded, and a number of the center’s staff were internally disciplined. [24] [25]

Developments regarding this group are ongoing, and the government is determined not to let the group’s methods become popular, despite the impossibility of preventing its spread online. This dynamic mirrors that of other new religious groups in Vietnam, who face the government's increasing crackdown on “false religions.”

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