Religion Bulletin, September 2023: Vietnam Increased Repression of New Religions

Recent incidents across Vietnam highlight significant restrictions and governmental interference in religious practices, raising concerns about the state of religious freedom in the country this month.

Religion Bulletin, September 2023: Vietnam Increased Repression of New Religions

[The Government’s Reach]

Lao Cai Province: Government Restricts Online Practice of Ba Co Do Religion

In early September 2023, a video emerged on the Montagnards for Justice Facebook page, showing an official in Lao Cai Province threatening a person's right to engage in Ba Co Do religious activities online. [1] Filmed at Giang A Chu's residence in Coc Dao Village, the footage reveals a plainclothes officer threatening to cut off the family's access to communal resources if they continue practicing the Ba Co Do. This religion is rooted in the Hmong community but unacknowledged by the government.

According to state media, the Ba Co Do religion, practiced predominantly by the Hmong community, was introduced to Vietnam by a Hmong individual named Vu Thi Do, who resides in the United States.

The government's prohibition of emerging religions like Ba Co Do primarily stems from concerns that these faiths could potentially influence public psychology, encourage the forming of social groups, and utilize religious affiliations to oppose state authority.

A person in plainclothes believed to be a police cadre pointed directly at and threatened an independent Protestant. Photo: Montagnards for Justice Facebook page

Restriction on International Travel for Religious Conference

In a related development, on Sept. 18, 2023, Nguyen Xuan Mai, a follower of the independent Cao Dai Chon Truyen 1926, was denied exit from Vietnam to attend a Religious Freedom Conference in the United States. [2] The incident drew concern from Rashad Hussain, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom. [3] Previously interrogated for her advocacy in the United States, Mai represents a growing number of religious practitioners facing travel restrictions.

In July 2022, Mai went to the United States to advocate for religious freedom in Vietnam and attended the International Religious Freedom Summit. Immediately after flying back to her country, she was interrogated by the police for more than six hours at the airport. [4]

Cao Dai Chon Truyen is an independent Cao Dai organization not registered and not under the management of the Vietnamese government.

In March 2022, registered Cao Dai organizations in Da Nang, Ben Tre, Tay Ninh, Long An, Kien Giang and Tien Giang provinces had to work with the authorities to maintain the regulations laid out in Circular No. 34/TB/TW on the control of the Cao Dai religion. [5]

Phu Yen Province: Government Crackdown on Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ

In early September 2023, a People's Public Security newspaper report highlighted the Phu Yen provincial government's efforts to dismantle the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ. [6]

The report said that the church had gained a following of 30 individuals from the Ede ethnic group across four communes in Song Hinh District, namely Song Hinh, Ea Lam, Ea Trol, and Ea Bia. Since 2021, local authorities in these communes have actively obstructed the activities of this independent Protestant group, leading to its eventual fragmentation and disbandment.

Government sources noted that 29 of the 30 followers had pledged to abandon their affiliation with the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ. Among these, 24 have transitioned to government-recognized Protestant denominations, while the remaining five are reportedly undergoing further "sensitization and education."

In May 2023, the situation escalated when Nay Y Blang, a resident of Ea Lam commune and one of the church's adherents, was arrested and charged by the Phu Yen provincial government with "abusing democratic freedoms." [7]

The Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, which remains unrecognized by the Vietnamese government, has been labeled a subversive group, accused of undermining state authority with their collection of evidence to show how the government suppressed religious freedom.

Phu Yen provincial government propagates to people in Song Him District. Photo: People's Police Newspaper.

[Religion 360*]

USCIRF Report on Religious Freedom in Vietnam

On Sept. 5, 2023, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published an updated assessment of religious freedom in Vietnam following their delegation's visit in May 2023. [8]

The key findings of the report include:

  • Inconsistent Application of the 2018 Law on Belief and Religion: The USCIRF report highlights that this law is applied unevenly across Vietnam, often leading to harsh treatment of believers, particularly in rural areas. Many religious organizations remain unrecognized, contributing to systematic violations of religious freedom and resulting in diminished public trust and social instability.
  • Harassment of Unrecognized Religions: Local Vietnamese authorities frequently target and harass members of unrecognized religions and religious minorities. Attempts by these groups to register to hold religious activities are often arbitrarily denied. Religions such as Ha Mon, Falun Gong, Duong Van Minh, and the World Mission Society Church of God are branded as malevolent by the state.
  • Persecution of Independent Protestant Communities: The report particularly notes the severe persecution of independent Protestant communities in the Central Highlands and northern mountainous regions. Incidents like the Dak Lak police station shootings have been used by the government as a pretext to intensify religious oppression.

The Vietnamese government closely monitored and followed the USCIRF delegation's visit to Vietnam, including Vice President Frederick Davie and Commissioner Eric Ueland.

The USCIRF delegation met with the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha in Ho Chi Minh City on the afternoon of May 18, 2023. Photo: Giac Ngo Newspaper.

Historically, USCIRF has recommended placing Vietnam on the list of Countries of Particular Concern for religious freedom violations. Vietnam was included in this list in 2004 and 2005 but was removed in 2006 following a binding agreement with the United States, the details of which were not disclosed. [9] Since December 2022, Vietnam has been on the U.S. Special Watch List for concerns regarding religious freedom.

Health Concerns for Venerable Thich Tue Sy

In late September 2023, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam disclosed that its leader, Venerable Thich Tue Sy, 80, was undergoing medical treatment in a Ho Chi Minh City hospital. [10]

As reported by VOA, a monk affiliated with the UBCV revealed that the medical prognosis for Venerable Thich Tue Sy's illness is challenging, indicating difficulties in achieving a full recovery. [11]

Venerable Thich Tue Sy assumed a pivotal role within the UBCV following the reconstitution of the Council of Clergy in September 2022. As the chief secretary, he became the organization's top leader. His tenure has been marked by efforts to strengthen the church's structure, including broadening its personnel and enhancing the study and interpretation of Buddhist scriptures.

A prominent figure in religious and academic circles, Venerable Thich Tue Sy is well-known for his dissidence, literary contributions, and scholarly Buddhist research. Notably, he faced severe persecution, evidenced by a death sentence in 1988, leading to over a decade of imprisonment. His release and continued activism underscore his enduring commitment to religious freedom and scholarly pursuits in the face of adversity.

[Newly Formed Religions]

Thai Nguyen Province: Elimination of Duong Van Minh Organization

In Thai Nguyen Province, the government announced the complete eradication of the Duong Van Minh organization, a religious group followed by the Hmong community. [12] This move is part of a broader pattern of the government targeting unrecognized religious practices.

Nationwide Crackdown on the Church of God the Mother

The Ministry of Home Affairs directed a nationwide campaign against the Church of God the Mother, a religious group accused by the government of cult-like activities and social disruption. [13] This directive calls for disbanding the church's meeting places and heightened monitoring of its activities.

Previously, in May 2023, a series of state newspapers published news warning people about the Church of God groups operating aggressively in many provinces and cities. [14]

About a month later, the Ministry of Public Security said it had handled 12 violations and 85 subjects related to the Church of God the Mother in the first six months of 2023. [15]

To this day, the government still considers this church a cult, accusing it of defrauding people, going against Vietnam’s ordinary customs, destroying families, etc.

See more: Is the Church of God as dangerous as the government claims?

Ha Giang Province: Government Erases San Su Khe To Religion

The government's efforts to eliminate the San Su Khe To religion in Can Chu Phin Commune, Ha Giang Province, have been reported by the Ha Giang Provincial Police Department.. [16] This campaign aligns with the broader provincial initiative to counter unrecognized religious activities.

These developments collectively paint a worrisome picture of the state of religious freedom in Vietnam, where governmental control and suppression of diverse religious practices remain prevalent.

The Meo Vac district government encourages people not to follow the San Su Khe Tho religion. Photo: Ha Giang Provincial Police website.

Previously, in June 2023, the authorities in communes and towns in Meo Vac District, Ha Giang Province, mobilized people to abandon the San Su Khe Tho religion.

This campaign is part of Project No. 23-DA/TU, dated Nov. 23, 2018, of the Ha Giang Provincial Party Committee on "Preventing, fighting, and resolving the activities of evil and strange religions in the province from 2018 to 2025". [17]

Like other religions not recognized by the government, the San Su Khe Tho religion is not allowed to operate in Vietnam, and the government is always trying to condemn and eliminate it.


1. Người Thượng vì Công lý. (2023, September 20).

2. BPSOS - Đề Án Dân Quyền Việt Nam. (2023, September 26).

3. Việt Nam cấm xuất cảnh tín hữu Cao Đài độc lập Nguyễn Xuân Mai; Đại sứ Mỹ lên tiếng. (2023, September 27). VOA Tiếng Việt.

4. Tín đồ Cao Đài bị câu lưu nhiều giờ khi về Việt Nam từ Hội nghị Tự do Tôn giáo. (2022, July 27). RFA.

5. Thiện Trường. (2022b, April). Tôn giáo tháng 3/2022: Chính quyền tổng kết 30 năm kiểm soát đạo Cao Đài. Luật Khoa.

6. Xóa bỏ “Tin Lành Đấng Christ Tây Nguyên” ở miền núi Phú Yên. (2023, September 5). Báo Công an Nhân dân.

7. 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.

8. New Report on Religious Freedom in Vietnam. (2023, September 5). USCIRF.

9. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. (2022, February). Country Update: Vietnam.

10. Hoang Phap. (2023). THÔNG BẠCH Về tình hình sức khỏe và Cầu an cho Hòa thượng Thích Tuệ Sỹ. Hội Đồng Hoằng Pháp.

11. Việt, V. T. (2023, October 3). Hòa thượng Thích Tuệ Sỹ lâm bệnh, đang được điều trị tại Sài Gòn. VOA.

12. Đấu tranh với “tà đạo” trên địa bàn xứ chè. (2023, September 10). Báo Công an Nhân dân.

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

14. Hồ Đan. (2023, June 23). Tôn giáo tháng 5/2023: Chính quyền bắt giữ tín đồ, Mỹ lên án gay gắt Việt Nam về tự do tôn giáo. Luât Khoa.

15. Xử lý 12 vụ, 85 đối tượng hoạt động theo Hội Thánh Đức Chúa Trời Mẹ. (2023, June 30). Báo Thanh niên.

16. Xã Cán Chu Phìn, huyện Mèo Vạc xóa trắng thành công tà đạo “San sư khẻ tọ” ra khỏi địa bàn. (2023, September 22). Công an tỉnh Hà Giang.

17. Hà Linh.(2023, June 3). Mèo Vạc: Tổ chức cho các hộ gia đình theo tà đạo ký cam kết quay lại phong tục, tập quán truyền thống. Đài phát thanh và truyền hình tỉnh Hà Giang.

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