Religion Bulletin, May 2022: More Individuals In Tinh That Bong Lai Arrested, Ha Mon Religion Repressed

Kon Tum announces “eradication” of Ha Mon religion; Hanoi records 2,000 followers of new religions

Religion Bulletin, May 2022: More Individuals In Tinh That Bong Lai Arrested, Ha Mon Religion Repressed
The Tinh That Bong Lai facility, also called Thien Am Ben Bo Vu Tru, in Duc Hoa District (Long An Province).

[The Government’s Reach]

Two more members of Tinh That Bong Lai were arrested and detained

After extending the pre-trial detention of three defendants in the Tinh That Bong Lai [Penglai Sanctuary] case, the Long An provincial police’s Security Investigation Bureau arrested two more members of the group in May 2022.

The first, Cao Thi Cuc, 62, is said to be the owner of the land where the Tinh That Bong Lai facility was built. [1] The second person, Le Thanh Nhi Nguyen, 23, is a group member. [2]
Police searched the premises of Tinh That Bong Lai in January 2022. Photo: Tien Phong [Vanguard]

Both people were arrested under Article 331 of the Penal Code for abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state and the legal rights and interests of organizations and individuals.

In total, six members of Tinh That Bong Lai are being prosecuted under Article 331. Three of the four other members have been detained since January 2022: Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen,31, Le Thanh Trung Duong,28, and Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, 32. One other group member, Le Tung Van,90, has been released on bail. [3]

Tinh That Bong Lai is a religious group unregistered by the local government; its members believe that they do not need to register because they organize their own Buddhist practices at home.

The case has attracted public attention because, for many years, the group made a name for itself with television and social media entertainment. State media has reported that the group is suspected of "abusing home religious practice, nurturing orphaned and disadvantaged children to call for charitable donations which are then misused, abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of organizations and individuals, and incest…." [4]

Kon Tum provincial police: Ha Mon “false religion” has been eradicated

On May 26, 2022, Deputy Minister of Public Security Luong Tam Quang presented certificates of merit to police officers in Kon Tum Province for eliminating the Ha Mon "false religion." [5]

This is the culmination of 23 years of suppressing the Ha Mon religion in Kon Tum Province.
The Ministry of Public Security presents certificates of merit to police officers in Kon Tum for eliminating the Ha Mon religion from the province. Photo: Da Nang City Police newspaper

Police in Kon Tum province stated that they arrested a total of 23 key people, carried out "criminal proceedings" against nine people, and conducted public criticism sessions against eight others for their links to the Ha Mon religion.

Concluding the conference, Kon Tum Province Party Secretary Duong Van Trang announced that the Ha Mon religious organization had been completely eradicated from the province. [6]

The Ha Mon religion is one of the most heavily persecuted religions in the Central Highlands. Provincial authorities in the area believe the activities of the religion have political and reactionary elements but they have not provided any specific evidence.

In 2021, authorities in Mang Yang District, Gia Lai Province, where there were 1,357 Ha Mon practitioners in 2011, said that it had eradicated entirely the Ha Mon religion from the district. [7] Previously, in September 2020, Mang Yang district authorities arrested 71 people, "campaigned to flush out" 55 people hiding in the forest, and wiped out 15 Ha Mon religious groups in the district. [8]
Five Ha Mon practitioners were publicly criticised in Ea H'ding Commune (Cu M'gar district, Dak Lak Province) in 2010. Photo: Dak Lak Newspaper.

In March 2020, three ethnic Ba Na who followed the Ha Mon religion were arrested by Gia Lai provincial police after nine years of hiding in the forest. Initially, the police said the three were key leaders who hid away but continued to direct people to oppose the government. [9] However, three months after their arrest, all three were released for not being involved in any anti-government activities. They had absconded to the forest only out of fear of official persecution for following the Ha Mon religion, according to the government.. [10]

Further reading on new religions and the Ha Mon religion: the Government Committee for Religious Affairs says it's "ready to welcome novel religions." How should you take this?

15 Hmong followers of Duong Van Minh religion were sentenced to prison for "obstruction of officials" and "safety violations in places of assembly".

VOA Vietnamese reported that in May 2022, the People's Court of Ham Yen District, Tuyen Quang Province, sentenced 15 Hmong followers of the Duong Van Minh religion in two separate trials, neither of which were covered by State media. [11]

The first trial occurred from May 18 to May 20, 2022; Ly Van Dung was sentenced to four years in prison, and 11 others were sentenced to between two to four years in prison for obstruction of officials (Article 330, Penal Code).

The second trial took place on May 24, 2022. Duong Van Tu was sentenced to four years in prison, Duong Van Lanh to three years and nine months, and Ly Xuan Anh to three years and six months, all for the same crime of violating regulations on occupational safety, occupational hygiene, and safety in places of assembly (Article 295, Penal Code). Furthermore, each person was fined an additional 95 million dong (US$4,059). According to the defendants' families, the three were accused of not making medical declarations and testing for COVID-19 when they brought Duong Van Minh's body home from the hospital.

All 15 of the above individuals are involved in a conflict with the government over the burial of Duong Van Minh, the founder of the Duong Van Minh religion. Minh passed away at a hospital in Hanoi on December 11, 2021. His body was brought home to Ngoi Sen Village (Yen Lam Commune, Ham Yen District, Tuyen Quang Province).

The main crux of the conflict occurred on December 12 and 13. Using COVID-19 as a rationale, authorities mobilized hundreds, including police and medical staff, to interfere in the funeral proceedings, confiscate Minh's body, and stop the funeral from taking place. On December 13, practitioners organized a protest over the government’s actions. An estimated 48 people have been arrested in the conflict. [12]
Government forces clash with Duong Van Minh religious practitioners on December 12, 2021, during the funeral of the religion’s founder. Photo: VOA, as provided by a Duong Van Minh religious practitioner

One of the defendants' relatives said many families did not receive notice of the trial. The court did not allow relatives to attend in person but only allowed them to follow the trial through poorly-functioning loudspeakers.

Regarding legal defense, the same relative said that some families hired lawyers to defend their loved ones, but the government did not accept them because the defendants allegedly rejected the lawyers that the families chose. Instead, the court-appointed attorneys for the defendants.

The incident is one of many cases in which the government violently suppresses a group of religious practitioners and imprisons those who dare to resist; this pattern has been repeated with many other unregistered religious groups. Violent repression against religious practitioners is an indisputable fact in Vietnam.

What you need to know about the Duong Van Minh religion: Who's lying to you about the Duong Van Minh religion: the army or the police?

Ethnicity - Religion newspaper: Local authorities remain prejudiced against religious activities

In a series of articles, Ethnicity - Religion newspaper highlighted the Vietnamese government's obstruction of the people's right to religious freedom, [13] stating that the prejudice of local authorities against religious activities and lack of refinement in the laws on religion has led to the "denial of permits and recognition for religious activities and organizations".

The articles reported that authorities in some localities remain "prejudiced against religion and have the attitude that the practice of belief and religion could disrupt social order and affect government administration.”

Local authorities regularly cite legal ambiguity – stating that there is “no specific law” or “the law is unclear” on the topic— to refuse administrative procedures for religious organizations.

The article further stated that officials refused administrative procedures because they lacked the capacity to distinguish between religious organizations and beliefs and superstitious ones.

In addition, local authorities also lacked consistency in the registration and recognition processes regarding religious organizations.

Ngo Quoc Dong wrote the series of articles of the Institute for Religious Studies, a body of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.

The above statements further confirm that the right to religious freedom in Vietnam is arbitrarily restricted and dependent on the government's subjective views. The government gives itself the right to judge what is and isn't a religion and which religious groups should or should not be allowed to operate.

[New Religions]

Head of Hanoi Committee for Religious Affairs: nearly 2,000 Hanoians participate in new religions

Pham Tien Dung, head of the Hanoi Committee for Religious Affairs, told Hoa Dat Viet [Vietnamese Blossom] newspaper on May 31 that nearly 2,000 people in the city are active in new religious groups. [14]

The new religious groups include Long Hoa Di Lac [Long Hoa Maitreya], Ngoc Phat Ho Chi Minh [Ho Chi Minh Jade Buddha], Hoang Thien Long [Golden Heavenly Dragon], Giao Hoi Lac Hong [Lac Hong Church], Phap Mon Dieu Am [Dieu Am Dharma], Thanh Hai Vo Thuong [Supreme Master Ching Hai], Nhat Quan Dao [Yiguandao], and Duc Chua Troi Me [World Mission Society Church of God].

Dung said: "According to the Law on Belief and Religion provisions, these phenomena do not qualify for registration as mass religious activities".
Residents practiced Falun Gong in Hanoi’s Lenin Park in 2018. Photo: Bennett Murray, Southeast Asia Globe.

The head of Hanoi’s Committee for Religious Affairs accused some religions of seriously affecting the health and lives of followers and warned people not to participate. He said some new religions have reached out to students to proselytize.

According to Dung, people who join new religious groups include both the uneducated and highly educated. Religious groups often rent or borrow locations in "office complexes, villas, and buildings" in big cities to attract people more easily.

In particular, the article also cited Dung's accusations against religious groups that he considers "false": "indiscriminate sex, burning objects and foods, abandoning ancestral altars, breaking with traditional cultural activities and festivals, and even self-harm and suicide."

The Vietnamese government regularly condemns new religious groups in its propaganda. Allegations of affecting people's lives and health are often repeated to convince people not to join new religions. The government's obstruction of new religious groups has consequently forced them to operate increasingly discreetly, with less information available to the public.

The 2016 Law on Belief and Religion is a tool used by the government to hinder the activities of new religious groups. According to the law, only religions with long traditions can register religious activities. However, no matter how forcefully the government bans such activity, people will still need to follow new religions.

Further reading on new religions: Are sects really that scary?

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