Religion Bulletin - December 2023: Government Wipes Out New Religions and Unregistered Religious Groups

Religion Bulletin - December 2023: Government Wipes Out New Religions and Unregistered Religious Groups

[The Government’s Reach]

An Giang: Pure Sect Hoa Hao Buddhists Are Banned from Organizing the Birthday of Founder Huynh Phu So

According to RFA Vietnamese, the authorities of Long Giang Commune, Cho Moi District, have banned Pure Sect Hoa Hao Buddhists from organizing the birthday of their founder, Huynh Phu So. [1]

The commune authorities had asked followers to cease hanging their religion's flags and banners. They also forbade them from gathering to celebrate the birthday, which is always observed as a religious holiday.

Many police officers positioned themselves around the Pure Sect Hoa Hao Group’s headquarters to prevent followers from attending the event.

Compared to previous years when the government only partially harassed or banned followers, this year, the government completely banned the organization from marking Huynh Phu So's Birthday. 

The Vietnamese government only recognizes the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, while other Hoa Hao Buddhist groups - such as the Pure Sect Hoa Hao Buddhists - are considered illegal religious organizations.

In 2023 alone, the Pure Sect Hoa Hao Buddhist Group and other independent religious groups suffered more severe and frequent harassment by the government.

Vietnam Full Gospel Church is Recognized as a Religious Organization

On Dec. 27, 2023, the Ministry of Home Affairs recognized the Vietnam Full Gospel Church as a religious organization after it spent more than 33 years operating in Vietnam. [2]

This is the first religious organization recognized by the Vietnamese government in more than four years. [3]

The Vietnam Full Gospel Church is a Protestant organization belonging to the Pentecostal denomination. The church has been operating in Vietnam since 1990. In 2018, it was granted a certificate of registration for religious activities.

Recognizing the legal status of religious organizations in Vietnam is not a normal association registration process like in other countries. Religious organizations must undergo a long period of operation while accepting government control over internal organizations and religious activities.

In 2021, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang announced that Vietnam would welcome all religions, including new religions. [4] However, the government denied many religious organizations their operating licenses and also increasingly suppressed them.

[Religion 360]

For the First Time, Vietnam Agrees to Have a Permanent, Resident Diplomatic Representative of the Holy See 

On Dec. 23, 2023, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Marek Zalewski as the Vatican's Resident Representative in Vietnam, establishing official diplomatic relations between the two countries. [5]

This is the result of the "Agreement on the Statute of the Permanent Representative of the Holy See in Vietnam" signed by the two sides in July 2023. [6]

Prior to 1975, the government of the Republic of Vietnam allowed the Holy See to appoint nuncios to Vietnam, i.e. representatives of the Holy See but without official diplomatic status.

After 1975, the new communist government asked the Vatican nuncio to leave Saigon, ending the Holy See's representation in Vietnam. [7]

In the North, the two sides severed diplomatic relations in August 1959. The government expelled Father Terence O'Driscoll, who was the temporarily acting nuncio, and confiscated the nunciature and changed it into public property. [8]

In 2011, Vietnam allowed the Holy See to appoint a non-resident representative in Vietnam, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli.

In 2018, Archbishop Marek Zalewski replaced Archbishop Girelli.

The Vietnam Bishops' Conference said that Archbishop Zalewski was born on Feb. 2, 1963, in Poland. He was ordained a priest in 1989 and graduated with a doctorate in canon law in 1995. In addition to Polish, he is also fluent in five other languages: Italian, French, Spanish, English and German.

Before becoming a Resident Representative of the Vatican, he served as Apostolic Nuncio to Zimbabwe from 2014 - 2018. In 2018, Pope Francis appointed him Apostolic Nuncio to Singapore and a Non-Resident Representative in Vietnam.

In other news, President Vo Van Thuong has announced that the state has officially invited Pope Francis to visit Vietnam.

Currently, Vietnam is listed by the United States on the Special Watch List for religious freedom. This diplomatic move by Vietnam towards Catholicism may be aimed at easing U.S. tensions over Vietnam's abuse of religious freedom.

[New Religion]

Vietnam Dliminated the Duong Van Minh Religion Throughout Bac Kan Province

On Dec. 18, 2023, the Bac Kan provincial government stated it had completed the goal of Project No. 78 by eradicating the Duong Van Minh religion in the province. [9]

According to the government, the Duong Van Minh religion was present in five districts, 14 communes, and 19 villages with 899 followers. [10][11]

In November 2022, the government organized 11 working groups to suppress the Duong Van Minh religion. Since then, many funeral homes and altars in private homes have been removed, and many followers have been forced to sign a document stating that they will abandon this religious organization. [12]

Also, in December 2023, in Bao Lam and Ha Quang Districts of Cao Bang Province, the government held a conference to summarize their two years of implementing Project No. 78 and 34 years of propagandizing and eliminating the Duong Van Minh organization. [13][14]

According to the Bao Lam District government, as of June 2023, the district had dismantled 85 white backdrops and 7 barrows for people to use in funerals and forced 12,252 households to sign a document renouncing the Duong Van Minh religion.

In Ha Quang District, as of March 2023, the activities of the Duong Van Minh religion have been completely eliminated, and 100% of households have signed a document agreeing not to follow the religion.

In July 2022, the Bac Kan provincial government, for the first time, publicly announced Project No. 78, issued by the government in 2021, to "fight, prevent, and eliminate the illegal organization Duong Van Minh." 

The full content of this project has not been announced by the government, but the general goal is to eliminate the Duong Van Minh religion by 2023. Since then, the government has continuously suppressed followers of this religion across the country.

In the northern mountainous provinces of Vietnam, the government believes that the Duong Van Minh religion has plans for self-rule and the establishment of an independent"Hmong State." The suppression of this religion has been severe. [15] Up to now, four provinces have completely eliminated the Duong Van Minh religion, including Bac Kan, Thai Nguyen, Lao Cai, and Tuyen Quang. [16]

Yen Bai: People Forced to Abandon the Gie Sua Religion

Yen Bai online newspaper - a publication owned by the Vietnamese Communist Party in Yen Bai Province - stated that the government has successfully completed its mission to have 100% of households abandon the Gie Sua religion throughout its province. [17]

Previously, the whole province had 40 Hmong ethnic followers in Tram Tau and Van Chan Districts who were following the Gie Sua religion.

According to the government, the Gie Sua religion often attacks mainstream religions such as Catholicism and Protestantism. In addition, followers are taught to believe that the Gie Sua religion is the official religion of the Hmong people.

The government's campaign to mobilize people to sign a document to renounce the Gie Sua religion started in Yen Bai Province in July 2023. The government considers the Gie Sua religion to be an evil religion that plans to build its own state, separating it from Vietnam.

The Gie Sua religion was founded in 2015 by David Her (Ho Cha Sung), a Hmong person living in the U.S.

In addition to Gie Sua, Yen Bai Province also has 11 other religious organizations that are not recognized by the government. [18]

Dak Lak Prevents a Group of Followers of the  Ba Co Do Religious Group from Participating in Online Religious Activities

According to the Dak Lak electronic newspaper - a publication that is controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party of this province - at the end of November 2023, the authorities discovered three people organizing Ba Co Do religious activities via the Internet. [19]

All three are Hmong ethnic people living in Village 4, Ea M'doal Commune, M'Drak District.

According to the government, the Ba Co Do religion has negatively affected local social life and profited financially from its followers. However, the government did not provide any evidence to substantiate their allegations.

Ba Co Do is also called the Church of God Who Loves Us, founded by Vu Thi Do at the end of 2016. This religion mainly preaches through its online meetings via Zoom.

When the authorities discovered the followers of Ba Co Do participated in religious activities via the Internet, they often went to their homes or invited the adherents to the police headquarters and threatened or forced them to sign a document renouncing the religion. [20]

Yen Bai: The Government Prevented a Person from Preaching for the World Mission Society Church of God 

On Dec. 21, 2023, the Yen Bai provincial government discovered a woman distributing documents from the World Mission Society Church of God. [21]

According to the government, on Dec. 12, 2023, this woman - on behalf of the World Mission Society Church of God - preached to all members of a family in Group 12, Yen Ninh Ward, Yen Bai City.

After being discovered, the authorities confiscated many books, documents, and laptop computers containing content about the World Mission Society Church of God.

Previously in June 2023, the Ministry of Public Security stated that it had handled 12 violations and 85 people related to the World Mission Society Church of God in the first six months of 2023. [22]

In September 2023, the Ministry of Home Affairs directed the People's Committees of provinces and cities across Vietnam to resolutely handle the activities of the World Mission Society Church of God. [23]

Kon Tum: The Provincial Government has Abolished the Ha Mon Religion and the United Montagnard Church of Christ

According to an article published in the VietnamPlus electronic newspaper - a publication that belongs to the Vietnam News Agency - the Kon Tum provincial government has successfully eliminated the Ha Mon religion and the United Montagnard Church of Christ. [24]

Previously, the Kon Tum provincial government arrested a total of 23 people. From that follower group of Ha Mon, the authorities prosecuted nine people criminally and admonished eight people with public criticism due to their involvement in the Ha Mon religion. [25]

According to the government, the Ha Mon religion was established at the end of 1999 in Ha Mon Commune, Dak Ha District. At its peak in 2012, there were over 2,300 followers concentrated in Kon Tum Province; the group later expanded to Gia Lai and Dak Lak provinces. After 23 years of repression, there are currently no known followers of the Ha Mon religion in Kon Tum Province. [26]

As for the number of followers of the United Montagnard Church of Christ in Kon Tum Province, there are currently no specific statistics. However, there are not many followers in this province; most meeting places are concentrated in Dak Lak. [27]

Like the Ha Mon religion, the Kon Tum provincial government regularly suppresses this church. Up to now, there are no followers of the United Montagnard Church of Christ in this province.

In addition, in Kon Tum Province, there are other unrecognized religious organizations, such as the Dieu Am Dharma, Bao Loc Exorcism Group, Almighty God Church, Falun Gong, and the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam - the Buddhist sangha that was formed in South Vietnam in the 1960s but which is now outlawed by the current regime.

The government also admitted that although these religious organizations did not conduct activities affecting society's security and order, they might negatively affect the activities of the religions recognized by the government.

However, in November 2021, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs recognized five positive aspects of the new religious movement in Vietnam. Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang also announced that Vietnam welcomed all religions, including new ones. [28]

Dak Lak: A Protestant Family Harassed on Christmas Day

According to the Montagnards for Justice Facebook page, on Dec. 25, 2023, the authorities of Ea Ñuol Commune, Buon Don District, Dak Lak Province, dismantled a Christmas backdrop at Y Lem Mlo's house. He is a Protestant belonging to the Buon Akŏ Protestant Group. [29]

A video clip shows that as soon as the backdrop was taken down, a female official folded it up and took it out of the house. In Vietnam, all religious activities that take place outside of government-licensed locations are deemed to violate the law.

Christmas is one of the major holidays for Protestants and Catholics worldwide. On this occasion, believers often gather together to celebrate the event. However, to date, the United Montagnard Church of Christ has not been recognized by the Vietnamese government. Many members of this church are regularly persecuted.

Moreover, since the attack on the police and government headquarters of Cu Kuin District, Dak Lak Province, in June 2023, Vietnam has accused the United Montagnard Church of Christ of being a reactionary organization plotting to establish its own independent state. [30]

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