Religion Bulletin, October 2023: HRW Says Vietnam Criminalizes People Who Want to Exercise Their Freedom of Rights and Beliefs

Religion Bulletin, October 2023: HRW Says Vietnam Criminalizes People Who Want to Exercise Their Freedom of Rights and Beliefs

[The Government’s Reach]

The Government Set Up Strict Procedures to Manage All Merit Money Collected from Temples in Vietnam 

The Ministry of Finance sent an official dispatch to the People's Committees of provinces and cities on managing merit money and sponsorship at historical and cultural relics nationwide. [1]

In Vietnam, merit money refers to what people donate to temples during their visits, guided by the belief that these contributions will positively influence their karma.

According to the Ministry of Finance, the state does not manage merit money or sponsor monuments. Still, all revenue and expenditure activities must be managed and used transparently for the “right” purpose.

The chairman of the District People's Committee is the person who directs the inspection, and the chairman of the Provincial People's Committee will send the results report to the Ministry of Finance.

People put in their merit money after their visit to a temple. Photo: VOV.

Previously, in mid-July 2023, the Ministry of Finance announced its report No. 119/BC-BTC on the results of the pilot implementation of inspecting the management of merit money at historical-cultural relics and temples in Quang Ninh Province in 2022 and the first four months of 2023. [2]

The inspection is based on Circular No. 04/2023/TT-BTC guiding the management, financial receipts and expenditures for festival organization and merit money, and sponsorship of monuments and festival activities by the Ministry of Finance, issued on Jan. 19, 2023.

According to this circular, the management of merit money greatly impacts the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha. The Church has at least 28 temples recognized or included in special national monuments and about 500 other temples recognized as national monuments. [3]

Read more on: "Money for merit": Why is the state struggling with the temple?

This circular also significantly fractures the close relationship between the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha and the government. In the past, the government facilitated many temples with large revenues in site clearance, construction investment and tourism business. By assisting these Buddhist temples, the government aimed to increase the influence of Buddhism, which it had complete control over, to counter the larger and more independent religions such as Catholicism and Protestantism.

[New Religion]

Tay Ninh: Authorities prevent followers from spreading Falun Gong materials

The state-owned newspaper Tay Ninh Provincial Newspaper reported that the Tay Ninh provincial government had prevented the dissemination of Falun Gong materials in the Tan Chau and Tan Bien districts. [4]

Specifically, on Aug. 18, 2023, and Sept. 8, 2023, a 52-year-old man distributed documents on this subject to people in two crowded areas. The authorities confiscated 21 documents.

On Sept. 24, 2023, the authorities went on to discover another believer instructing 12 people on how to practice Falun Gong, confiscating 11 documents.

This Tay Ninh provincial newspaper also cited false information from a murder case in 2019 and said that practicing Falun Gong is dangerous to one’s health. The truth is that this murder case was not related to the practice of Falun Gong but rather because the perpetrators in the case created and practiced a different form of religious belief. [5]

Long An: The government prevents a group of World Mission Society Church of God believers from gathering for activities

On October 7, 2023, the authorities of Can Giuoc District, Long An Province, discovered seven people living with the World Mission Society Church of God at a motel in Phuoc Lam Commune. [6]

After that, the authorities recorded the incident and temporarily confiscated the group's objects and vehicles.

In mid-July 2023, the government stopped another World Mission Society Church of God activity group in My Le Commune, Can Duoc District.

In mid-September, the Ministry of Home Affairs sent a document to the National People's Committees of provinces and cities calling them to resolutely prevent World Mission Society Church of God groups. [7]

The believers organized propaganda to popularize the World Mission Society Church of God in Phuoc Lam Commune, Can Giuoc District. Photo: Long An Provincial Newspaper.

Read more: Is the Church of God as dangerous as the government describes?

Dak Lak: Four Independent Protestants Were Arrested for Inviting Vietnam's President to Join Them in Religious Activities

According to RFA, on Oct. 31, 2023, the Dak Lak provincial government arrested four independent Protestants. [8]

These arrested people were Montagnards, an ethnic group in the Central Highlands: Y Phuc Nie, Y Nuer Buon Dap, Y Thinh Nie, and Y Cung Nie. The police later released Y Phuc Nie but arrested Y Cung Nie's wife, H Tuyen Eban. All were detained at the headquarters of the Cu Mgar District Police, Dak Lak Province.

These people were interrogated by the police regarding work related to a letter inviting the government and President Vo Van Thuong to participate in religious activities in May 2023.

Those arrested are known to have invited local authorities to participate and monitor their activities to prove they were not using religion to sabotage the government.

According to RFA, some of those arrested are more or less related to Montagnards for Justice. This is an organization that the Vietnamese government believes is sabotaging the state because it has written many reports accusing the government of violating religious freedom that were sent to the United Nations.

Read more on Four things you may not know about Protestantism in Vietnam

Son La: The Government Completely Abolished the Ba Co Do Religion

In mid-October 2023, the Son La provincial government said it had completely eliminated the Ba Co Do organization. [9]

Also, according to the article, the government propaganda claims that the Ba Co Do religion has used religious and belief activities to divide the great national unity bloc, incite thoughts of separatism and autonomy, and call for the establishment of a separate state.

The government propagates and mobilizes people not to believe in or listen to unrecognized religious organizations. Photo: VOV.

Ba Co Do, also known as the Church of God Loves Us, was founded by Vu Thi Do at the end of 2016, mainly preaching via the Internet. Like other religious organizations not recognized by the government, Ba Co Do is considered a heresy.

Activities that mobilize and propagandize people to abandon so-called “evil religions” are often activities that include harassing, coercing, threatening, and isolating such followers to start a new life.

Gia Lai: An independent Protestant was sentenced to eight years in prison

On September 28, 2023, the People's Court of Gia Lai Province sentenced Rlan Thih, 42, to eight years in prison for allegedly sabotaging the solidarity policy and placed him on three-year probation, according to Article 116 of the Penal Code. [ten]

Rlan Thih at his trial. Photo: Gia Lai Online Newspaper.

Rlan Thih is accused of participating in the "Sang popu ană cu" meeting - (a Christian meeting), which the government considers a "variation of Dega Protestantism." It said the group enticed and incited a number of people to participate in these meetings with the intention of causing division in the unity bloc and making people go against the government. He was arrested at the end of 2022.

He is also said to have participated in riots in Gia Lai in 2001 and 2004 and to have remained stubborn and refused to give up his acts of “sabotaging” the government.

Recently, many independent Protestants have been arrested and prosecuted in the Central and Central Highlands regions.

In May 2023, the Phu Yen provincial government arrested and prosecuted Nay Y Blang for "abusing democratic freedoms." [11] In April 2023, the Dak Lak provincial government arrested Y Krech Bya for allegedly "sabotaging the great national unity policy". [12] Both of them are followers of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ.

[Religion 360*]

Human Rights Watch Reports Suppression of Religious Freedom in Vietnam Ahead of UPR

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report ahead of Vietnam's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations, critically highlighting the Vietnamese government's stringent control over religious groups and the criminalization of religious freedom. [13]

The report, part of a comprehensive review involving various stakeholders, including country representatives, human rights organizations, and civil society, points out significant issues concerning the suppression of religious freedom in Vietnam. It notes that the Vietnamese government imposes strict laws and registration requirements as well as employs harassment and surveillance to restrict religious practices.

Religious groups must obtain government approval and registration under strict governmental oversight. Independent religious organizations are often prohibited and labeled as contrary to national interests, public order, or national unity.

Particularly targeted are groups like Dega Protestantism, Ha Mon, Falun Gong, and other faiths considered heretical by the government and subjected to harassment. Police surveillance and repression of groups outside government control are commonplace, with followers facing public denunciation, coerced renunciation, arbitrary detention, interrogation, and even torture and imprisonment.

HRW's report includes instances of religious freedom suppression in Vietnam:

  • In August 2021, Chu Prong District police in Gia Lai Province publicly criticized 21 followers of Dega Protestantism.
  • In January 2022, Lao Cai Province persuaded many families to renounce 'evil religions' and convert to government-recognized ones.
  • In September 2023, Phu Yen province police employed various methods to dismantle Central Highlands Christianity.

Additionally, in September 2023, the Ministry of Home Affairs directed local authorities to combat the Church of God the Mother organization.

The report also highlights that between 2019 and 2022, courts imprisoned at least five individuals for associating with independent religious groups outside government control.

HRW urges the Vietnamese government to reform the Law on Belief and Religion to allow independent religious organizations to operate freely. The organization calls for an end to repression, forced conversion, prosecution, and imprisonment of individuals peacefully practicing their religion. HRW also recommends dropping charges and releasing those imprisoned for their religious beliefs.


1. Kiểm tra liên quan tiền công đức ở các di tích lịch sử, văn hóa trên toàn quốc. (2023, December 31). Báo Tuổi trẻ.

2. Chùa Ba Vàng và hơn 50 chùa không báo cáo tiền công đức. (2023, July 22). Báo Công an nhân dân.

3. “Tiền công đức”: Vì sao nhà nước giằng co với nhà chùa. (2021a, July 17). Luật Khoa Tạp Chí.

4. Cảnh giác với “pháp luân công”. (2023, December 13). Báo Tây Ninh Online.

5. Thái Thanh. (2022, July 4). Tin tức về tôn giáo trên báo chí nhà nước: Uốn não bảy lần trước khi kết luận. Luật Khoa tạp chí.

6. Cảnh giác các hình thức tà đạo của 'Hội thánh Đức Chúa trời'. (2023, December 15). Báo Long An.

7. Bộ Nội vụ: Kiên quyết đấu tranh, xóa bỏ tổ chức của Hội thánh Đức Chúa trời mẹ. (2023, September 17). Báo Tuổi Trẻ.

8. Đắk Lắk: Bốn tín đồ Tin Lành độc lập bị giam giữ sau khi mời Chủ tịch nước sinh hoạt tôn giáo. (2023, November 2). RFA.

9. Không để tà đạo chia cách lòng dân. (2023, December 14). VOV.

10. 8 năm tù cho đối tượng “phá hoại chính sách đoàn kết”. (2023, September 28). Gia Lai Online.

11. Khởi tố, bắt tạm giam đối tượng lợi dụng các quyền tự do dân chủ xâm phạm lợi ích của Nhà nước, quyền, lợi ích hợp pháp của tổ chức, cá nhân. (2023, May 18). Công an tỉnh Phú Yên.

12. Đắk Lắk: Khởi tố đối tượng phá hoại chính sách đại đoàn kết. (2023, April 8). Báo Nhân Dân.

13. Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of vietnam. (2023, December 3). HRW.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to The Vietnamese Magazine.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.