Religion Bulletin, October 2021: Police Continue To Obstruct Falun Gong Practitioners

New religions face increasingly draconian controls.

Religion Bulletin, October 2021: Police Continue To Obstruct Falun Gong Practitioners

[New Religions]

Tuyen Quang Province: Police fine Falun Gong proselytizer 12.5 million dong

According to the People’s Police online newspaper, Son Duong Suburban District and Tuyen Quang provincial police issued a decision to administratively fine a 63-year-old woman 12.5 million dong (US 4,552) for spreading the Falun Gong movement in a market neighborhood. [1]
Son Duong Suburban District police interrogate a woman for allegedly disseminating Falun Gong materials. Photo: People’s Police online newspaper.

Specifically, the woman was charged with storing and distributing documents of illegal origin.

The punishment was based on Point a, Clause 3, Article 29 of Decree 119/2020/ND-CP, which stipulates punishment for administrative violations of press and publishing activities: “a) distributing publications without invoice, license, or documentation demonstrating lawful origin, or illegally distributing publications printed and processed for foreign countries on Vietnamese territory, in quantities from 100-300 copies.” [2]

Vietnamese law does not contain any regulations prohibiting people from spreading new faiths and religions. However, the above decree is regularly used to administratively punish and confiscate documents from participants of such faiths, especially practitioners of Falun Gong.

Muong Nhe Suburban District and Dien Bien provincial police issue new definition of false religions

In a report by Inspector TV (an agency of the Government Inspectorate and the Inspectorate branch), Major Vu Van Hung, police chief of Muong Nhe Suburban District, established a new definition of “false religion.” [3]

Major Hung said false religions were those that “took advantage of the teachings and canon law of orthodox religions to give birth to a new figure, with the ultimate purpose of assembling forces and conspiring towards future secession and self-rule.”
Major Vu Van Hung is responding to questions of reporters in a program on “false religions” by Inspector TV. Photo: screenshot.

In the same report, Colonel Trang A Tua, director of Dien Bien provincial police, stated that the “false religions” Gie Sua and Lady Co Do have caused citizens to lose faith in the state, making them unreceptive to support provided by social welfare policies.

Authorities frequently accuse new religions of turning citizens against the state, especially those religions in the northern mountainous regions and the Central Highlands, where ethnic minorities reside.

The Duong Van Minh religion is a case-in-point. However, a number of the religion’s practitioners state that they reject state policy because of the local government’s excessively harsh repression of their religious activities. [4]

Authorities in the mountainous regions regularly coerce residents to give up their new religions, allowing them only to participate in group religious activities sanctioned by the state.

According to the Inspector TV report, Dien Bien Province currently has many residents following new religions. Among them were 152 followers of the Ho Chi Minh Spiritual Faith, 1 follower of the Dharma, 64 followers of Falun Gong, 17 households (comprising 109 individuals) following the Lady Co Do religion, and 17 followers of the World Mission Society Church of God.

[The Government’s Reach]

Ho Chi Minh City: Police summon children from the Phuc Hung Missionary Church to investigate the spread of COVID-19

In mid-October 2021, Go Vap district police summoned members of the Phuc Hung Missionary Church during its investigation into the spread of COVID-19 in Ho Chi Minh City, Pastor Vo Xuan Loan, co-director of the church, told VOA. [5]

Eleven members of the church were summoned on October 13, 2021, including two children ages 11 and 13. The church has approximately 60 members.

On October 17, 2021, Go Vap district police surveyed the church’s areas of the congregation, according to attorney Dang Dinh Manh. [6]
Go Vap district police investigators investigate the Phuc Hung Missionary Church’s areas of the congregation on October 17, 2021. Photo: Attorney Dang Dinh Manh.

Currently, the case remains under investigation. According to attorney Dang Dinh Manh, after the investigation is complete, the worst-case scenario is that prosecutors will bring charges against the defendants according to Article 240 of the 2015 Penal Code (amended in 2017): spreading infectious disease to others. If charged with this crime, members of the church could be fined more than 50 million dong (US$2,207) or be jailed for up to 12 years. Other possibilities include de-escalation of the criminal case into an administrative sanction, or the case being dismissed altogether.

At the end of May 2021, Ho Chi Minh City uncovered numerous local COVID-19 cases. Authorities publicly identified the Phuc Hung Missionary Church as the origin point of infection but were unable to pinpoint where church members themselves became infected.

Nguyen Duy Tan, head of the HCMC Municipal Committee for Religious Affairs, stated on May 27, 2021, that the church was operating legally and abided by the city’s social distancing rules, but its religious activities were conducted in a very tight space. [7]

Since the end of May 2021, church members have come under pressure from state media for allegedly spreading disease throughout the city.

At the beginning of June 2021, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs asked the HCMC municipal authorities to halt the church’s activities and mulled rescinding the church’s permit to operate, pending the results of the investigation. [8]

Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism enacts propaganda plan against “false religions”

In October 2021, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism enacted a plan to carry out 10 propaganda reports on faith and religious activities, with a focus on combating false religions in Vietnam. [9]

The reports would be sponsored by the state budget and broadcast across the Vietnam News Agency’s many propaganda platforms in the last three months of 2021.

The plan’s content reveals that the government recognizes the influence new religions have on national culture, people’s lives, and the activities of orthodox religions.

According to the plan, the reports’ main propaganda thrust will be to “fight the deceptive faiths and religions that lead to superstition, profiteering, and negative influences on national culture, religion, and people’s lives”.

The government’s propaganda against new religions restricts religious freedom in Vietnam. Propaganda against “false religions” has for many years influenced people’s views on new religions, making it difficult for these religions to operate openly because they are discriminated against by a portion of the public.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism’s propaganda plan once again demonstrates the government’s interference in religious activities in Vietnam.

[Religion 360*]

Government announces regulations for group religious activities during Covid-19 pandemic
A citizen waits for family members at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda in HCMC. The pagoda allows only one person per family per visit to enter. Photo: Le Hong Hanh / Thanh Nien Newspaper.

On October 15, 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs requested that leaders of religious organizations take measures to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 at all levels when conducting religious activities. [10]

The request was issued to implement the government’s resolution on how communities could adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. People’s activities will have to comply with four levels of COVID-19 spread. [11]

In terms of religious activities, provinces and cities at pandemic level 1 (low risk) will be allowed to conduct religious activities but must make medical declarations through tech apps; those at level 2 (medium risk) and level 3 (high risk) will have to limit non-essential religious gatherings, with the maximum number of people decided by provincial People’s Committees; those at level 4 (very high risk) will have to suspend all religious activities.

For the past four months, many provincial and municipal governments have requested a temporary suspension of all religious activities due to COVID-19.

At the end of September 2021, HCMC municipal authorities allowed the resumption of religious gatherings but limited the number of participants to 10 individuals. [12] In cases where 90 percent of participants were fully vaccinated, that number was increased to 60.

At the beginning of October 2021, the Archdiocese of Saigon announced the resumption of a portion of its community activities. Sunday masses would be held several times throughout the day to limit the number of participants per session, as required by government regulation. People under 18 and over 65 were advised not to participate in group religious activities. [13]

The Vietnamese Buddhist Church in Ho Chi Minh City also announced that monasteries were allowed to resume religious activities, per municipal government regulations. [14]

As of late, government penalties (prosecutions, threats to rescind operating permits, etc.), as well as criticisms and accusations of spreading COVID-19 from the media and the public have instilled fears in religious organizations.

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