Religion Bulletin, January 2022: The Government Committee For Religious Affairs Has A New Head Who Is Yet Another Police Cadre

The state of religious affairs in the new year: good news, bad news, and the same old controlling ways.

Religion Bulletin, January 2022: The Government Committee For Religious Affairs Has A New Head Who Is Yet Another Police Cadre

[The Government’s Reach]

The new head of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs (GCRA) is another police colonel

In January 2022, the GCRA reported on its website that Vu Hoai Bac, 46, a police colonel, had been named the new head of the GCRA. [1]
Vu Hoai Bac, in October 2021 when he was still the director of Tra Vinh Province Police. Photo: Tra Vinh Newspaper.

The appointment was not formally announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the GCRA, or any major domestic newspapers.

Giac Ngo [Enlightenment], a newspaper of the Ho Chi Minh City Vietnamese Buddhist Church, was the rare publication to report the development but did not specify Vu Hoai Bac’s previous positions. [2]

According to the People’s Police Newspaper, in October 2021, Vu Hoai Bac was appointed head of the Security Investigation Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security. [3] Prior to that, Bac was director of Tra Vinh Province Police from March 2020. He has 10 years of experience working in the Economic Security Bureau and the Homeland Security Bureau (A02). ​​A02 is the Ministry of Public Security entity that combats reactionaries and which is in charge of ensuring security when it comes to religion, ethnic minorities, and terrorism. [4]

The People’s Police Newspaper further reported that Bac has 30 years of training and experience in the police profession, especially in national security defense.

The GCRA falls directly under the Ministry of Home Affairs, implementing the state’s management of religious activities. For many years, however, the heads of the GCRA have regularly been high-level security cadres.

Bac’s two predecessors were both senior police cadres. Major-General Vu Chien Thang, currently vice minister of Home Affairs, held the position since 2017. [5] Before that, Lieutenant-General Pham Dung held it from 2012. [6]

In addition to Vu Hoai Bac, Nguyen Tien Trong was appointed vice-head of the GCRA beginning in February 2021 and was also a police colonel with the Homeland Security Bureau. [7]

Investigation into the Phuc Hung Missionary Church COVID case was temporarily suspended

According to lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, after eight months of prosecuting the spread of COVID at the Phuc Hung Missionary Church, investigators with the Go Vap District police issued a decision to temporarily suspend the investigation. [8]
The January 29, 2022 police decision to temporarily suspend the criminal investigation into the Phuc Hung Missionary Church. Photo: Manh Dang’s Facebook profile.

In May 2021, the church was accused by a number of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) municipal bodies, as well as the state press, of spreading COVID throughout the city. Go Vap District Police later began to investigate the case on May 29, 2021.

The suspension notice sent to Phuong Van Tan and Vo Xuan Loan, the church’s two pastors, stated: “The time limit for investigating the criminal case has been reached, and it cannot be confirmed that the accused have committed any crimes.”

According to lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, who is defending the two pastors, this decision to temporarily suspend the investigation probably will signal a possible end to the case.

Vice Minister of Home Affairs wants to develop a force of religious party members to grasp the state of religious followers

In an article published by State Organizations Magazine in January 2022, Vice Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang slightly mentioned the directions that the state management of faiths and religions would take, containing a number of notable points regarding increasing control over religious organizations. [9]

Most noteworthy are the instructions to “develop Party members who are religious and assign these Party members to monitor and effectively carry out public relations work with religious followers and the public.”

The Vietnamese government has acknowledged using Party members in the past to control religious activities, confirming in 2020 that the State and the Party secretly assigned Party members to religious organizations.[10]

Another notable instruction involves “building a core force of Party members in managing religions so that they can form the necessary resources when they deal with complex issues among religions.”

In January 2021, Vice Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang reported that his ministry had had “exchanges” with religious organizations, “guiding” them to choose leaders who were close to the government. [11] This trend demonstrates that the authorities only accept religious leaders who support the Party and the government.

These instructions reaffirm the government's ambition to control religious organizations for the foreseeable future. For many years, legal regulations on religion have not helped to ensure people's religious freedom but have only helped the government control and manipulate religious organizations.

[Religion 360*]

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh passes away in Hue

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, the founder of the Plum Village Tradition, passed away on January 22, 2022, at Tu Hieu Pagoda in Thua Thien - Hue Province. He was one of the most famous Buddhist leaders in Vietnam and the world.

His funeral was held at Tu Hieu Pagoda, where he was ordained and where he returned to recuperate in  2018 until his death. The funeral lasted seven days.

Immediately after his death, the Vietnamese Buddhist Church, the only Buddhist organization recognized by the State, issued a written request to the church’s management board in Thua Thien - Hue Province asking it to support Tu Hieu Pagoda, as it organized the funeral according to the church’s high-level rites and Zen Master Nhat Hanh’s own funeral will.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s funeral saw the participation of countless monks from Plum Village and the Vietnamese Buddhist Church. Photo: Plum Village.

Photos of the funeral showed throngs of followers and regular people who got permission to attend. Monks of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church also carried out a number of rites during the funeral. There were no reports of conflict between the Plum Village and the Vietnamese Buddhist Church during the event (even though Plum Village tradition does not belong to the Vietnamese Buddhist Church, the only officially recognized Buddhist organization in Vietnam.)

At the funeral of Zen Master Nhat Hanh, some people also officially took refuge in the Plum Village tradition at Tu Hieu Pagoda.

On behalf of the government, Vice Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang and head of the GCRA Vu Hoai Bac attended the funeral service on January 26, 2022. The Ministry of Home Affairs described the visit as paying tribute to Zen Master Nhat Hanh's contributions to "introducing and developing Buddhism and Vietnamese culture to the world". [12]

Vice Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang visits the funeral of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Photo: Ministry of Home Affairs.

More than 15 years after Nhat Hanh’s return to Vietnam in 2005, the Plum Village Tradition is still not allowed to officially operate in the country. In 2009, Plum Village disciples temporarily practicing at a pagoda in Lam Dong had to disband after a number of alleged scuffles with authorities. At the time, the People's Police Newspaper published an article accusing Zen Master Nhat Hanh of interfering too deeply in Vietnamese politics when he criticized the Communist Party and called on the government to improve the deplorable state of religious freedom. [13]

Priest murdered in Kon Tum Province

According to the Kon Tum episcopal see, on January 29, 2022, Father Giuse Tran Ngoc Thanh was attacked by a man while sitting in a confessional. Father Thanh died the same day due to his injuries. [14]

The episcopal see stated that Father Thanh was a member of the Dak Mot parish church, in Sa Loong Commune, Ngoc Hoi Suburban District, Kon Tum Province. The man who attacked the pastor, Nguyen Van Kien, was the son of a Catholic family in the parish.

The Dak Mot Church, where Father Thanh held mass and where he was murdered while sitting in a confessional. Photo: Trinh Vinh Phuc.

News of the event only appeared in the domestic press five days later, when the decision to prosecute the case was made. According to Dan Tri News, Nguyen Van Kien, age 33, attacked Father Thanh with a 40-cm-long knife at 7:30 p.m. on January 29, 2022. On February 3, 2022, Kon Tum Province Police investigated the case and detained Nguyen Van Kien for murder. [15]

In April 2021, a priest from Kon Tum diocese was also attacked by a man with a knife. Tien Phong Newspaper reported that the man had received psychiatric treatment in 2018 and had been sentenced to three years in prison in 2016 for intentionally causing injury. [16]

State newspapers report false information on the prosecution of four Tinh That Bong Lai members

At the beginning of January 2022, four members of Tinh That Bong Lai (also known as Thien Am Ben Bo Vu Tru) were prosecuted by Duc Hoa Suburban District police investigators in Long An Province for abusing democratic freedoms and violating the interests of the State, organizations, and individuals. [17]

The four prosecuted members include Le Tung Van, 90, Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, 32, Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen, 31, and Le Thanh Trung Duong, 27. With the exception of Le Tung Van, who remains free, the remaining three individuals are currently being detained by investigators.
The four prosecuted members of Tinh That Bong Lai (from left): Le Thanh Trung Duong, Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, Le Tung Van, and Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen. Photo: Viet Entertainment.

However, prior to the arrests, numerous state newspapers, such as VietNamNet [18], VOV [19], VTV [20], and Enterprise and Marketing [21] simultaneously reported that members of the organization were being investigated and prosecuted for incest and fraudulent appropriation of assets. The baseless information about the crime of incest has created a wave of public outrage toward Tinh That Bong Lai.

According to Ho Chi Minh City Law Newspaper, investigators prosecuted the case on January 3, 2022, under the crime of "abusing democratic freedoms and violating the interests of the State, organizations, and individuals." As of January 14, the authorities have not added any additional accusations against the members of Tinh That Bong Lai. [22]

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