Religion Bulletin, April 2022: Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha Opposes Transparency On Monetary Donations

The Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha (VBS) and state administrative bodies encounter a conflict of interest.

Religion Bulletin, April 2022: Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha Opposes Transparency On Monetary Donations
Representatives of the VBS meet with President Nguyen Xuan Phuc in May 2021. Source: Nguoi Lao Dong [Laborer].

[The Government’s Reach]

VBS opposes the Ministry of Finance’s third draft circular on management and transparency of monetary contributions to historical relics

On April 20, 2022, the VBS sent an official letter responding to the Ministry of Finance’s third draft circular on managing monetary contributions to historical relics. [1]
The VBS response to the draft circular on monetary contributions to historical relics. Photo: screenshot.

According to the response, firstly, the sangha does not accept the stipulation that temples must report revenue and expenditures to the state when organizing festivals at Buddhist relics.

Secondly, the sangha opposes the requirement that temples use their own monetary contributions for festivals organized by the state at religious relics.

Thirdly, the sangha requests that the draft refrains from regulating both the management of expenses and the transparency of monetary contributions to religious organizations and relics.

The sangha’s request will likely be unheeded. In actuality, the government implemented the draft to manage and make transparent the monetary contributions to religious relics, including Buddhism.

The VBS has many religious grounds recognized as relics. At least 28 pagodas are recognized directly or as part of nationally-renowned complexes, and about 500 are recognized nationally. [2] For years, monks of the sangha and local governments have joined hands to facilitate religious tourism and large amounts of monetary contributions.
A call for monetary contributions at Ba Vang Pagoda (Quang Ninh Province). Photo: Ba Vang Pagoda.

In terms of transparency, the draft requires that monetary contributions and cash donations be made through bank accounts and that the receipt of any other types of assets is fully recorded.

Furthermore, the draft also requires that expenditures at relics comply with expenses as stipulated by the draft, regardless of whether the relic is under the management of the state or a religious organization.

Construction of civil works continues on land originally belonging to An Hoa Parish before 1975

In April 2022, the construction of civil works continued on land that An Hoa Parish is currently petitioning to reclaim. [3]

The petition has carried on for more than three years without significant development. Meanwhile, the 15,000 m2 parcel of land has seen the construction of an increasing amount of civil structures and is on its way to becoming a high-income residential area.
An investor-erected billboard selling the land An Hoa parish is currently petitioning to reclaim. Photo: An Hoa parish.

An Hoa Parish allowed the Da Nang municipal government to use the land after 1975 for industrial and handicraft production and agriculture for some parishioners. It was not until 2019 that authorities informed the parish that the land had been passed to private companies to develop into a residential area. [4]

In mid-April 2022, auditors from the Ministry of Construction arrived in Da Nang to inspect local government agencies and several companies, including Da Viet Company, the land investor under petition. [5]

Further reading: An Hoa Parish requests a stop to construction on disputed land

Pre-trial detention was extended for three defendants in the Tinh That Bong Lai case

On April 26, 2022, the Long An Province Security Investigation Bureau announced an extension of pre-trial detention to June 3, 2022, for three defendants: Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen,31, Le Thanh Trung Duong, 28, and Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, 32. [6]
The four members of Tinh That Bong Lai under prosecution (from left to right): Le Thanh Trung Duong, Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, Le Tung Van, and Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen. Photo: Viet Giai Tri [Viet Entertainment].

All three defendants, along with Le Tung Van, 90, were prosecuted in early January 2022 for abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, organizations and individuals.

According to Thanh Nien, the Long An Province Security Investigation Bureau said the pre-trial detention extension for the three defendants was due to the need for more time to investigate the case. [7]

Tinh That Bong Lai, also known as Thien Am Ben Bo Vu Tru, is an organization established in 2015 in Duc Hoa Suburban District (Long An Province) that includes many members, including children. Members organize their own Buddhist activities that are not registered with the local government and often use social media, attracting a good deal of attention.

Before the case’s prosecution, the organization had a reputation for controversy. However, it did not engage in any activity related to criticizing the government.

In November 2021, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs reported that Tinh That Bong Lai showed signs of abusing religion to profiteers. Long An provincial authorities accused the organization of violating some State regulations on land management and construction. [8]

The Vietnamese government tightly controls religious establishments. All religious worship sites with large gatherings of people must seek permission from the local authorities to operate. For Buddhism in particular, pagodas must be members of the VBS. Many households now choose to build pagodas and operate secretly to avoid registering with the government and being subject to the VBS’s management.

Ministry of Public Security introduces religious books into prisons: no Bibles in ethnic languages

On April 1, 2022, the Ministry of Public Security reported that it would introduce 17 religious titles into 54 prisons nationwide. [9]

Major General Thung Van Nghiem, deputy director of the Internal Security Bureau, said the introduction of religious books into prisons was presided over by the Ministry of Public Security and was occurring to meet prisoners' demands for religious scriptures and publications.

However, of the 17 titles, eight are research and academic books on religion originating from the People's Public Security Publishing House, titles for which there is little demand among prisoners. The eight titles include:

  1. Quan điểm Hồ Chí Minh về công tác vận động tín đồ tôn giáo [Ho Chi Minh’s Views on Mobilizing Religious Practitioners]
  2. Tìm hiểu về các tôn giáo ở Việt Nam hiện nay, và công tác vận động, đoàn kết, phát huy vai trò của tôn giáo tham gia các hoạt động xã hội [Understanding Religions in Vietnam Today, and Advocacy, Solidarity, and Promoting the Role of Religion in Social Activities]
  3. Hệ thống tổ chức giáo hội của các tôn giáo tại Việt Nam [Church Organizational Systems of Religions in Vietnam]
  4. Hỏi đáp về tôn giáo nội sinh ở Việt Nam [Q&A on Indigenous Religions in Vietnam]
  5. Tìm hiểu về tín ngưỡng, tôn giáo [Understanding Belief and Religion]
  6. Lịch sử tôn giáo thế giới và Việt Nam [The History of Religion in Vietnam and the World]
  7. Những biến động trong đời sống tôn giáo hiện nay và tác động của nó đến lối sống người Việt [Current Trends in Religious Life and Their Impact on Vietnamese Lifestyles]
  8. Một số vấn đề về đời sống tôn giáo trên thế giới hiện nay [Religious Life Issues in the World Today]
A few of the titles that will be introduced into prisons are on display. Photo: VOV.

Regarding religious scriptures, the Ministry of Public Security only allows Buddhist scriptures and the Bible in Vietnamese and English. Meanwhile, Vietnam has 16 government-recognized religions. The Religion Publishing House produces the Bible in ethnic minority languages, but the Ministry of Public Security has yet to introduce these into prisons.

The Ministry of Public Security has said that 4,418 books will be delivered to prisons, averaging 81 books per prison. Inmates cannot keep the books; they can only borrow them.

But whether they can borrow books at all depends on the permission of prison officials. Under the UN's minimum criteria, prisoners should, to the extent possible, be granted the right to keep religious texts. (Principle 66 – Nelson Mandela Principle) [10]

In addition, introducing religious texts into prisons can make it difficult for inmates who have already stated that they wanted to obtain their own scriptures, as authorities may argue that the prison already has religious texts.

[Religion 360*]

USCIRF releases 2022 report: Vietnam among countries where the state of religious freedom remains poor

In the 2022 edition of its report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a U.S. Congressional agency, recommended returning Vietnam to the list of countries of particular concern (CPC). [11]
The USCIRF report on religious freedom in Vietnam in 2021. Photo: screenshot.

The report, issued annually, assesses the state of religious freedom in countries worldwide, including Vietnam.

This year's report lists Vietnam as one of the countries where religious freedom is most restricted, alongside countries like North Korea, China, Myanmar, and Afghanistan.

According to the report, in 2021, the Vietnamese government persecuted numerous religious communities, including new religious groups such as Duong Van Minh, Ha Mon, Falun Gong, and the World Mission Society Church of God.

Independent religious groups, such as Hoa Hao Buddhists and Cao Dai practitioners, did not escape the government's repression either. In September, authorities in Cho Gao Suburban District (Tien Giang Province) detained and interrogated Cao Dai practitioners, forcing them to join government-recognized Cao Dai organizations.

The report also touched on An Hoa Parish’s petition to the Da Nang authorities for the return of land it allocated to the government after 1975. Today, the land is being divided and sold as residential land.

Since 2002, USCIRF has recommended the U.S. government include Vietnam on the list of CPCs. However, only in 2004 and 2005 was Vietnam included. In 2006, after signing a binding agreement with Vietnam, the U.S. government removed the country from the list. The content of the agreement has never been made public. [12]

[New Religions]

Hau Giang Province: Long My Suburban District police obstruct World Mission Society Church of God group “at private residence”

At the beginning of April 2022, police in Long My Suburban District (Hau Giang Province) reported that they had discovered three people participating in a World Mission Society Church of God group “at a private residence.” [13]

The three individuals stated that they joined the group on Zoom through the guidance of a person in Bac Lieu Province. Each gathering had about 30 to 40 participants.

Hau Giang provincial police confirmed that the religious group was unrecognized by the government and exhibited signs of superstition, such as "praying illnesses away and forbidding ancestor worship by conflating it with devil worship”.

After the incident, Hau Giang provincial police announced that it searched for people in the province who were linked to the religious group. Police also organized propaganda discouraging people from joining the group, reminding them to only follow recognized religions.

With the police increasingly blocking new religious groups, many have turned to online religious activities.

Further reading: Government Committee for Religious Affairs acknowledges positive aspects of new religions

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