Religion Bulletin, December 2022: Authorities Crack Down on New Religions; U.S. Puts Vietnam on Special Watch List for Religious Freedom

Repression remains severe, continuous, and systematic.

Religion Bulletin, December 2022: Authorities Crack Down on New Religions; U.S. Puts Vietnam on Special Watch List for Religious Freedom

[New Religions]

Kien Giang Province: Preventing the Spread of Falun Gong in Schools

The Kien Giang provincial police website reported that police stopped a woman from disseminating Falun Gong materials at a school in Rach Gia City on Dec. 1, 2022. [1]
Photo: Wikipedia.

The woman, named Thuy, was distributing Falun Gong materials to parents and students at the school and was subsequently invited down to the police station for questioning.

On Dec. 8, 2022, in collaboration with Kien Giang University, Chau Thanh district police in the same province confiscated many Falun Gong materials containing the same content as those distributed by Thuy.

Immediately after, the Internal Political Security Division of Kien Giang provincial police coordinated with the Department of Education and Training, colleges, and universities to organize anti-Falun Gong propaganda sessions.

Kien Giang provincial police consider Falun Gong a “false religion,” although no provisions in Vietnamese law define this term.

Currently, Falun Gong is among the new religions in Vietnam that authorities are stringently working to obstruct. Those who spread the religion are subject to administrative sanctions, house searches, and confiscation of materials.

Da Nang City and Quang Tri Province obstruct activities of the (World Mission Society) Church of God

According to Lao Dong [Labor] newspaper, Ngu Hanh Son district police (Da Nang City) obstructed a group of 16 individuals as they were attending the Church of God on Dec. 3, 2022. [2]

The newspaper stated that the group’s reported leader and its members had pledged to police that they would “cease its illegal religious recruitment activities and its organizing of religious activities outside places permitted by local authorities.”

Police seized a laptop, eight Bibles, three notebooks, and several religious items from the group.

Lao Dong newspaper also reported that the government had not yet recognized the Church of God and that the group’s proselytizing activities were illegal.
Authorities recognize police officers in Hoa Hai Ward (Ngu Hanh Son District, Da Nang City) for obstructing a group of the World Mission Society Church of God. Photo: Ngu Hanh Son district police.

In related news, Trieu Phong district police (Quang Tri Province) prevented the Church of God from proselytizing in the town of Ai Tu.

According to Gia Dinh Viet Nam [Vietnamese Family] newspaper, on Dec. 9, 2022, district police announced that they had discovered that a couple that had arrived from Quang Binh Province had rented a house in the township to carry out missionary activities for the Church of God. [3]

Police stated that a living room with a TV, podium, table, and chairs in the rented home was arranged "as a place for religious activities." In addition, police found 30 pages of handwritten documents and 10 books related to the Church of God.
A room in the house is said to be used as a place to preach the Church of God, located on Nguyen Trai Street (Ai Tu Township, Quang Tri Province). Photo: Gia Dinh Viet Nam [Vietnamese Family] newspaper.

To date, there is no further information regarding the government's handling of this couple and their activities related to the Church of God.

The Church of God, rooted in Protestantism and comes from South Korea’s Kyunggi Province, was founded by Ahn Sahng-hong in 1964. In 1985, after Ahn Sahng-hong's death, the church expanded to 13 congregations in South Korea. Today, the Church of God is in 175 countries, with over 2 million practitioners. [4] [5]

The Vietnamese government currently points to a lack of state recognition and its own failure to register these group religious activities as a justification to prevent citizens from expressing their beliefs through new religions.

Cao Bang Province: Authorities force more than 2,000 people to renounce the Duong Van Minh religion

During a conference in 2022, Cao Bang provincial police stated that it had eliminated 15 funeral homes and 165 altars and successfully mobilized 318 households with 2,042 people to abandon the "Duong Van Minh illegal organization." [6]

The provincial police department also reported that it would "concentrate forces and fiercely fight to eliminate the illegal Duong Van Minh organization according to its set schedule” for 2023.
The 2022 summary conference of the Cao Bang Province People's Police on Dec. 23, 2022. Photo: Cao Bang Provincial police.

After the religion’s founder passed away at the end of 2021, authorities in the northern provinces ramped up their crackdowns to eliminate this religion.

The suppression campaign has been carried out in accordance with Government Project #78 on "Fighting, obstructing, and eradicating the illegal Duong Van Minh organization,” which has not yet been made public. The Internal Security Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security is implementing the project.

Over the years, the authorities have used various means to obstruct the Duong Van Minh religion, including firm measures such as using violence, destroying funeral homes and altars, and restricting the right of adherents to benefit from the state’s welfare policies.

The Duong Van Minh religion was formed in the 1990s by Duong Van Minh to reform the outdated and costly customs of the Hmong people. To suppress this religion, the authorities sentenced him to 5 years in prison for fraudulently appropriating people's property and propagating superstitions.

There is no official data on the number of practitioners the religion has. However, a radio broadcast by the People's Police estimated that around 8,000 Hmong were following the religion in 2020. [7]

[Religion 360*]

The United States puts Vietnam on Special Watch List for Religious Freedom

On Dec. 2, 2022, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that the United States was placing Vietnam on its Special Watch List (SWL) for religious freedom. [8]

The SWL is a list of countries perpetrating or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom. As of 2022, Vietnam, Algeria, the Central African Republic, and the Comoros are included.

Placement onto the SWL puts Vietnam closer to placement on the United States’ list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC).

The latest reports from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom show that religious freedom is deteriorating in Vietnam. Vietnamese authorities openly use violence, take advantage of the provisions of the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion, and employ various methods of harassment to restrict religious freedom.
Pham Thu Hang, deputy spokesperson of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, opposes the U.S. inclusion of Vietnam on the Special Watch List for religious freedom. Photo: Vietnam Plus.

Pham Thu Hang, the deputy spokesperson of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asserted that the United States put Vietnam on the list based on biased assessments and inaccurate information regarding religious freedom. [9]

Nguyen Dinh Thang, director of the human rights organization BPSOS, which advocates for religious freedom in Vietnam, stated that the country should have been included in the CPC list for its severe, continuous, and systematic repression of all religious organizations that refuse state control. [10]

Beginning in 2004, the United States put Vietnam on the CPC list for two consecutive years. In 2006, Vietnam was removed following commitments by the Vietnamese government to improve religious freedom. [11]

If it includes Vietnam on the CPC list, the U.S. government will initiate bilateral negotiation measures or even economic sanctions to force the country to improve religious freedom.

Further reading: US Puts Vietnam on Special Watch List for religious freedom: 16 years of Limbo

[The Government’s Reach]

An Giang Province: Police set up traffic stops to prevent practitioners and dignitaries from attending the birthday celebration of the founder of Pure Hao Hao Buddhism

The Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha reported that on Dec. 16, 2022, Cho Moi district police in An Giang Province set up two checkpoints at an official event celebrating the birthdate of the religion’s founder, Huynh Phu So. [12]

Cho Moi district police frequently use this tactic to prevent dignitaries and practitioners from attending the organization’s events. The venue for the 2022 celebration was the private residence of a dignitary in Long Giang Commune (Cho Moi District).
These are pictures taken by the Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha members of the various police stops on Dec. 16, 2022.

The sangha stated that only the state-sanctioned Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha could commemorate the holiday; the independent Hoa Hao Buddhist groups and the Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha were prohibited.

Hoa Hao Buddhism was founded in 1939 in the present-day Phu Tan District of An Giang Province. Its history is among the most vehemently anti-communist of all religions. After 1975, the government dissolved this religion, and only in 1999 did the state recognize an organization called the Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha, the only recognized Hoa Hao Buddhist group to this day.

Independent Hoa Hao Buddhists believe that the Hoa Hao Buddhist Sangha is an organization set up by the state to control religious activities within the framework of the government. As such, several practitioners refuse to join the sangha and have established organizations or religious activities for adherents.

Son La Province: Sop Cop District "mobilizes" people not to follow Ba Co Do religion

The Son La newspaper (Bao Son La) reported that since the beginning of the year, Sop Cop district authorities in Son La Province had mobilized 2 out of 5 households in Huoi Luong Village (Muong Leo Commune) to renounce the Ba Co Do religion. [13]

According to the article, district authorities have organized more than 100 sessions to “meet, converse with, and convince” residents of Huoi Luong Village to stop following the Ba Co Do religion.

The Ba Co Do religion is among the new religions most fiercely prohibited by the Vietnamese government. According to state media, the group, also known as the Church of God Loving Us, was founded in 2016 by Vu Thi Do, a Hmong woman residing in the United States. Do spread the religion to Hmong areas in northern Vietnam. [14]

Local police believe the Ba Co Do religion is a false religion, and they use different methods to force practitioners to renounce the religion.

Authorities often suppress new religions by accusing them of creating political problems, such as calling for the establishment of an autonomous state or gathering people to oppose the government.

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