Religion Bulletin, October 2022: Deputy Minister of Home Affairs condemns the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for "misrepresenting" religious freedom in Vietnam

A senior Ministry of Home Affairs official has vehemently and unequivocally criticized the USCIRF for the first time.

Religion Bulletin, October 2022: Deputy Minister of Home Affairs condemns the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for "misrepresenting" religious freedom in Vietnam

[Religion 360*]

Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang: U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) constantly misrepresents religious freedom in Vietnam

In an article published on VOV, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang stated that USCIRF's reports over the past five years have constantly misrepresented religious freedom in Vietnam. [1]

He asserted: “They give themselves the right to comment and critically evaluate the status of human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam and a number of other countries. They use outdated information and documents from religious groups and sects that have not been recognized by the state, from extremist religious leaders dissatisfied with the regime and prejudiced against the party and state [...].”

He accused USCIRF of:

  • Encouraging illegal, unpermitted, and unregistered religious activities.
  • Promoting activities associated with “heretic or novel religions” in remote areas and increasing superstitions
  • Asserting that the Law on Belief and Religion is a "backward step," incompatible with international conventions on human rights.

Vu Chien Thang stated that these assertions ultimately intend to "affect the thoughts and feelings" of religious dignitaries and religious adherents and at the same time "create skepticism" about the Vietnamese government’s religious policies.

State media regularly accuses USCIRF's annual reports of misrepresenting religious freedom in Vietnam. However, this is perhaps the first time a senior Ministry of Home Affairs official has made such a vehement and unequivocal criticism of USCIRF.

USCIRF is a commission of the U.S. federal government established under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). USCIRF states that it uses international standards in assessing freedom of religion and belief in countries and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress. [2]

For many years, USCIRF has recommended that the U.S. government put Vietnam back on the list of countries of particular concern (CPC) regarding religious freedom.

See a summary of the 2021 USCIRF report on religious freedom in Vietnam.

[The Government’s Reach]

Dak Lak provincial authorities continue to harass independent Protestants

A number of independent Protestants in Dak Lak Province have reported that since October 14, 2022,  authorities have continuously blocked and surveilled the entrances to villages and residences. [3]

In Chue Village (Bang Adrenh Commune, Krong Ana District), two plainclothes men (believed to be police officers) appeared at Y An Hdruĕ's residence at night. The two said they had come to the house to advise on do's and don'ts. [4]

On October 30, 2022, Cu Ebur Commune authorities (Buon Ma Thuot City, Dak Lak Province) broke into Y Nguyet Bkrong's residence to disperse practitioners of the Evangelical Church of Christ, a religious organization long unrecognized by the state. [5]

Before that, on October 25, 2022, Y Nguyet Bkrong refused an invitation to meet with Buon Ma Thuot City police. [6] He said the authorities tried to prevent him from registering group religious activities rather than guide him.
The two men in the photo are believed to be security officers who visited residences in Ea Khit Village (Cu Kuin District, Dak Lak Province). Photo: Montagnards For Justice.

The government conducts DNA tests on members of Tinh That Bong Lai

On October 28, 2022, Long An provincial police reported that it had concluded the DNA tests for members of Tinh That Bong Lai (TTBL). [7]

Accordingly, the police informed TTBL members of the results, which the members refused to accept. Authorities pledged not to disclose the results to the public out of respect for human rights and children's rights under Vietnamese law.

Long An provincial police believe that the DNA test results are an essential basis for them to continue with the next stage of proceedings regarding charges of fraud, appropriation, and especially the crime of incest within TTBL.

Attorney Dang Dinh Manh, one of TTBL’s defense lawyers, said that the acquisition of DNA samples had seriously violated numerous rules, including not having the superintendent's consent when samples were taken from the children, not having the consent of the tested and not having attorney access when DNA samples were being taken.

Vice Chairman of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front Central Committee: Religious organizations primarily violate Article 5 of the Law on Belief and Religion regarding prohibited acts

At the end of October 2022, the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front held a review session on the draft decree for administrative sanctions in the field of belief and religion. [8]

Vice Chairman of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front Central Committee Ngo Sach Thuc said religious organizations today primarily commit the following offenses regarding the Law on Belief and Religion:

  • Violations of Article 5 on prohibited acts, such as discriminating against or on grounds of belief and religion, obstructing the exercise of citizens’ rights and obligations, and profiteering.
  • A number of religious organizations have overstepped the rights provided for in the Law on Belief and Religion or failed to fulfil their obligations therein.
  • Violations regarding the registration, election, or nomination of appointees.
  • Violations regarding the organization of mass proselytization outside of religious and sanctioned establishments.
  • Violations regarding participation in religious training and activities overseas.
  • Violations regarding the receipt of sponsorships from overseas individuals and organizations for improper purposes.

These violations show that the Law on Belief and Religion contains many provisions that are inconsistent with the current practices of religious organizations, with the law attempting to exert control over the internal activities of these organizations.

As such, this may also be why the government wants to issue a decree for administrative sanctions; it would force religious groups to more strictly comply with restrictions on their religious freedom, as stipulated by the Law on Belief and Religion.

[New Religions]

75% of new religious phenomena are concentrated in the delta and midlands of the north

Dai Bieu Nhan Dan [People's Representative] e-newspaper reported that nearly 75% of new religious phenomena are concentrated mainly in the delta and midlands of the north. [9]

According to the article, there are 11 new religious phenomena, mainly of Christian origin, particularly Protestantism. The article's author is Pham Tien Dung, head of the Hanoi Committee for Religious Affairs. He said that "the movement to convert to Christianity spearheaded by local ethnic leaders" has led to the development of new religions.

Dung also suggested that people were becoming confused and disoriented in the face of increasingly difficult economic conditions and pandemic fallout. As such, they became practitioners of new religious phenomena with the aim of expecting a supernatural being to help.

However, he asserted that these religious phenomena negatively affected people’s cultural, social, and economic lives.

Dung identified the northern mountainous provinces and the Central Highlands as areas where new religions such as Gie-Sua, Ba Co Do, Duong Van Minh, and the World Mission Society Church of God have appeared.

Hanoi is also one of the localities where new religious phenomena have frequently arisen. On September 20, 2022, the Hanoi Committee for Religious Affairs established an Office of Faith and New Religious Phenomena to advise the committee on professional issues and manage new religious phenomena. [10]
Hoang Sonny – founder of the Troi Thai Binh religion. Photo: Cong An Nhan Dan [People’s Police] newspaper.

Binh Phuoc provincial authorities obstruct two practitioners of the Troi Thai Binh [Pacific Sky] religion

According to Cong An Nhan Dan (People’s Police) newspaper, on October 5, 2022, Binh Phuoc provincial authorities prevented a mother and daughter from spreading the Thai Binh Troi religion in Tan Xuan Ward, Dong Xoai City. [11]

Police seized a number of documents and items from the two practitioners but have not announced how they will handle the two cases.

Vietnam currently has 85 "novel religions," according to state statistics. [12] In June 2021, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang said that Vietnam would welcome novel religions moving forward. [13] However, new religions remain suppressed by local authorities.

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