Religion Bulletin, February 2022: Plum Village Meets With Government Committee For Religious Affairs, Discusses Operating in Vietnam

Along with other noteworthy news on religious freedom.

Religion Bulletin, February 2022: Plum Village Meets With Government Committee For Religious Affairs, Discusses Operating in Vietnam
Left: The Government Committee for Religious Affairs (GCRA) received the Plum Village Sangha on February 16, 2022. Source: GCRA.

[The Government’s Reach]

Plum Village Sangha meets with GCRA

On February 16, 2022, Vu Hoai Bac, head of the GCRA, received the Lang Mai Sangha, led by Venerable Thich Chan Phap An. [1]

According to the GCRA, representatives of the Sangha thanked agencies and authorities at all levels for their support and assistance in organizing the January 2022 funeral of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Concurrently, Plum Village representatives informed the GCRA of the delegation’s intended activities in Vietnam and asked the government for continued assistance.

That same day, the Plum Village Sangha met with Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang at the Ministry of Home Affairs headquarters, where Venerable Thich Chan Phap An touched on Plum Village's activities in Vietnam. [2]

The Plum Village Sangha is still not permitted to operate in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha (VBS) is the only Buddhist organization recognized by the government and is the singular management body for all Buddhist activities. If they want to operate, Buddhist associations and groups must join and submit to the management of the VBS.

After Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh first returned to Vietnam in 2005, some of his Plum Village disciples were allowed to practice at Bat Nha Pagoda, a temple belonging to the VBS. However, in 2008, public harassment of the group hindered its practice. Ultimately, the disciples were expelled from the temple. [3]

The incident happened not long after Plum Village Letter No. 31 was published in February 2008, expressing many views regarding the Party, the “religious police”, and the GCRA. [4] Afterwards, the People's Public Security newspaper used the letter to defame Plum Village and Thich Nhat Hanh, accusing him of wanting to interfere too deeply in managing religion and politics. [5]

Hoa Binh Province: Two Vu Ban town officials obstruct a mass presided over by Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien

On February 20, 2022, when Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien was holding a 10 AM Mass at Vu Ban parish church (Hoa Binh province), two officials from Vu Ban Township showed up and demanded the event’s cancellation.

According to the Hanoi Archdiocese, [6] the two officials are believed to be Pham Hong Duc, Vu Ban town secretary, and Pham Van Chien, deputy chairman of the Vu Ban People's Committee.

A video on social media shows the two walking up to the altar, grabbing the microphone and asking the parishioners to disperse as the priests performed a mass. [7]

The day after the mass was blocked, the Hanoi Archdiocese sent a complaint about the incident to the Hoa Binh Province People's Committee, asking for the religious freedom of both clergy and laity to be respected. According to the archdiocese, the Hoa Binh provincial government regularly makes it difficult to hold Catholic masses.

According to the Hoa Binh newspaper, the Vu Ban town government correctly fulfilled its state management obligations when it obstructed the mass. [8]

The article asserted that the mass led by Archbishop Vu Van Thien was not included in the program sent to the government, was held at an unlawfully-constructed place of worship, and did not strictly comply with COVID-19 regulations.

[Religion 360*]

State press: Man who killed Kon Tum Province pastor says no one incited him

On February 18, 2022, Thanh Nien News reported the confession of Nguyen Van Kien, who murdered Father Tran Ngoc Thanh on January 29, 2022. [9]

According to the article, Kien described himself as disturbed, sickly, and unable to marry. He thought that killing Priest Tran Ngoc Thanh would free him (from his disturbance). Kien said he committed the act voluntarily, without being instigated by anyone.

The murder of Father Tran Ngoc Thanh occurred at Dak Mot parish church (Sa Loong Commune, Ngoc Hoi Suburban District). Kien stabbed the pastor numerous times, leading to his death.

In a notice dated February 4, 2022, the Kon Tum Diocese stated that Kien did not practice Catholicism like his parents, that he worked normally, but sometimes acted up, cursed, and destroyed things, paranoid that he was being bullied. [10]

Kien is currently being detained and prosecuted for murder.

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom: Vietnam a “country of particular concern”

In February 2022, USCIRF updated the state of religious freedom in Vietnam 2021, continuing to call on the United States to put Vietnam back on the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list. [11]

The USCIRF upheld criticism of the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion, which places many restrictions on freedom of belief and religion and the law’s inconsistent and piecemeal application.

The report affirmed that the Vietnamese government continues to severely persecute independent religious groups, calling them "strange, false, or heretical” religions. Many adherents and religious activists are still imprisoned, some of whom say their health has deteriorated due to abuse in prison.

The USCIRF also named religious groups that the Vietnamese government is determined to eliminate, including Falun Gong, Ha Mon, the World Mission Society Church of God, and the Duong Van Minh religion. In addition, the Vietnamese government is accused of forcing many Montagnards in the Central Highlands to relinquish their form of Protestantism.

The commission proposed that Vietnam consider the recommendation of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and not require registration with the government as a mandatory condition for religious activities.

For years, the Vietnamese government has used the registration process to control religion by deciding which religious groups can and cannot operate.

Regarding religion-related prisoners of conscience, the commission called on Vietnam to release Nguyen Bac Truyen, who was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment in 2018 for “activities aimed at overthrowing the people's government.” Internationally, Truyen was a prominent advocate of religious freedom. Two other prisoners of conscience were also mentioned: Y Yich (who was sentenced to 12 years in prison) and Phan Van Thu (sentenced to life in prison).

A papal representative meets with GCRA

On February 15, 2022, Archbishop Marek Zalewski, Apostolic Nuncio to Singapore and Non-Residential Papal Representative to Vietnam met with the GCRA. [12]
Archbishop Marek Zalewski (left) and GCRA head Vu Hoai Bac in a February 15, 2022 meeting. Photo: GCRA.

Father Joseph Dao Nguyen Vu was the head of the office and headquarters manager of the Vietnam Bishops' Conference.

Vu Hoai Bac affirmed that the relationship between the Vatican and Vietnam had made important strides. The Holy See may soon have a resident papal representative in Vietnam.

The Holy See and the Vietnamese government agreed to upgrade their relations to permanent representation status in 2018, [13] a process which has yet to be completed.

In 2011, the Vietnamese government agreed for the first time to let the Holy See appoint a non-resident representative to Vietnam, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli. In 2018, Archbishop Marek Zalewski replaced him.

[New Religions]

Dak Lak province: Four individuals sanctioned for spreading Falun Gong

According to the People's Public Security, on February 15, 2022, police in Cu M'gar Suburban District (Dak Lak Province) stated that it had issued a decision to administratively sanction four people residing in Tan Lap Commune (Krong Buk Suburban District) for distributing Falun Gong materials. [14]

The four individuals are said to have distributed documents about Falun Gong at a Cu M’gar Suburban District market on February 13, 2022. Afterwards, police summoned them to the station and confiscated the distributed documents and those stored by the four.
The four individuals who administratively sanctioned the Falun Gong documents were confiscated by Cu M'gar Suburban District police. Photo: People's Police

The decision to sanction was based on the act of “illegally distributing printed products,” though it is unclear which legal document served as the basis for the sanction. Previously, this act was specified in Article 27 Decree 159/2013/ND-CP on administrative sanctions in press and publishing activities. [15] However, this decree has been replaced by Decree 119/2020/ND-CP of the same name, but it no longer includes the act of “illegally distributing printed products.” [16]

Cu M'gar Suburban District police confirmed that Falun Gong is not a religious organization and has not been authorized by the State to operate.

In addition to Dak Lak Province, police in numerous provinces and cities have prevented and administratively sanctioned many Falun Gong practitioners for distributing materials. [17]

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