Religion Bulletin - January 2024: Vietnam Continues to be on the Special Watch List for Religious Freedom

Religion Bulletin - January 2024: Vietnam Continues to be on the Special Watch List for Religious Freedom
Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

[The Government’s Reach]

The government imprisoned a follower of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ

On Jan. 26, 2024, the Phu Yen provincial government sentenced Nay Y Blang, a follower of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, to four years and six months in prison for "abusing democratic freedoms to violate the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals," under Article 331 of Vietnam’s current Penal Code.

According to the government, Nay Y Blang regularly organized followers of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ to gather and pray at his home from the end of 2019 to 2022. However, the government deemed that these prayers distorted religious policies.

In May 2023, the Phu Yen provincial government arrested and indicted Nay Y Blang in the Ea Lam Commune for the above-alleged crime. After more than seven months of detention, the government brought him to trial.

Previously, in 2005, the Phu Yen provincial government sentenced him to five years and six months in prison for "undermining the national unity policy."

Nay Y Blang and 29 other followers of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ participated in activities in the four communes of Song Hinh, Ea Lam, Ea Trol, and Ea Bia of Song Hinh District.

From 2021 until now, the governments in the four communes above have regularly organized their propaganda materials to induce and prevent these independent Protestant groups from practicing their religion. Therefore, 24 people were forced to convert to other Protestant churches recognized by the government, and five people had to participate in governmental-organized "educational sensitization."

The government does not recognize the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ. In particular, since the June 2023 attack on the police and government headquarters of Cu Kuin District, Dak Lak Province, the government has often accused this religion of being reactionary and of sabotaging the state.

Authorities Tried 100 People Involved in the Riot in Dak Lak Province

On Jan. 16, 2024, the Dak Lak provincial government held a mobile trial of 100 people in connection with the attack on the People's Committee headquarters in two communes of Dak Lak Province in June 2023.

According to the government, 53 people were tried for "terrorism aimed at opposing the people's government," 39 people were tried for "terrorism," one person was tried for "organizing others to enter and exit the country illegally," and one person was tried for "concealing a crime." The authorities also wanted six people abroad who were being tried for absence.

In addition, the government argued that the terrorist group's purpose was to overthrow the people's government and establish an independent Dega State.

The trial was expected to last 10 days but ended on the afternoon of Jan. 20, 2024.

The court sentenced 10 people to life imprisonment, while the rest received sentences ranging from nine months to 20 years.

This case happened on June 11, 2023, when two headquarters of the People's Committee of Ea Tieu and Ea Ktur communes were attacked by a group of people, killing nine, including four police officers and two officials.

In early 2001, the Central Highlands also erupted in massive protests by Montagnards over the issues of religion, land, and discrimination against their ethnicity. These protests lasted until 2008, and many Montagnards were arrested and sentenced to prison.

The Montagnards, or Degar, are indigenous peoples from Vietnam's Central Highlands, encompassing various ethnic groups like the Jarai, Rhade, and Bahnar. They traditionally live in mountainous regions, subsisting on agriculture, hunting, and gathering. Notably allied with the United States during the Vietnam War due to opposition against North Vietnamese control, the Montagnards have faced significant challenges post-war. 

[Religion 360]

Vietnam Continues to be on the U.S. Special Watch List for Religious Freedom

On Jan. 4, 2024, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that the United States continued to put Vietnam on its Special Watch List for religious freedom.

The Special Watch List lists countries committing or tolerating serious violations of religious freedom. This year's list includes Algeria, Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic, Comoros, and Vietnam.

Vietnam, Algeria, the Central African Republic, and Comoros have been on this list since 2022.

The spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, Pham Thu Hang, stated that Vietnam opposes the United States for continuing to put Vietnam on its Special Watch List for religious freedom. She affirmed that Vietnam was included in this list because the United States relied on subjective assessments and inaccurate information about the situation of freedom of religion and belief in Vietnam.

Vietnam's inclusion in this list is a step closer to being included in the U.S. list of "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPC).

Previously, Vietnam was on the CPC list in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, Vietnam was removed from the CPC list following the Vietnamese government's commitment to improving religious freedom.

In May 2023, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the U.S. State Department put Vietnam on the CPC list because it violated freedom of religion due to serious, systematic, and ongoing violations of freedom of religion.

HRW: The Vietnamese Government Monitors, Harasses, and Suppresses Independent Religious Groups

On January 11, 2024, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its 2024 annual human rights report. The report said that Vietnam has monitored, harassed, and suppressed independent religious groups.

The report also said that members of independent religious groups were publicly denounced by the government, forced to renounce their faith, arbitrarily arrested, and subjected to abusive interrogations, maltreatment, and imprisonment after unfair trials.

Previously, in March 2023, HRW also said that the Vietnamese government often considers independent religious groups such as Dega Protestantism, Ha Mon, and Falun Gong to be evil. Therefore, the government often harasses followers of these religious groups.

As of January 2022, the government did not recognize about 140 religious groups with approximately 1 million followers. This contradicts Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang's previous statement that Vietnam welcomes all religions, including new ones.

[New Religion]

Eliminate the Gie Sua Religion Throughout Dien Bien Province

On Jan. 11, 2024, the Dien Bien provincial government announced that it had eliminated the Gie Sua religion entirely.

Previously, in January 2023, the Dien Bien provincial government stopped the activities of the Gie Sua religion throughout the province and, at the same time, instructed three households and 20 followers to abandon this religion.

According to the provincial government, the Gie Sua religion began to exist in 2015 and has nearly 200 households with about 1,230 followers throughout the province.

In addition to the Gie Sua religion, the Dien Bien government has also banned the activities of the Ba Co Do religion throughout the province.

The Gie Sua religion is one of the religions most heavily persecuted by the government in the northern region of Vietnam. Provincial governments in this area believe that the activities of the Gie Sua religion have political and reactionary elements, but they have not provided any specific evidence.

Lao Cai: The Government Completely Abolished the Ba Co Do Religion

The Cong An Nhan Dan (People’s Public Security) newspaper stated that the Lao Cai provincial government has completely eliminated the Ba Co Do religion.

Specifically, the government mobilized officers to prevent this religion from operating by establishing working groups and installing security cameras in households that followed the Ba Co Do religion.

In addition, the government also visited people's homes and prohibited them from participating in Ba Co Do religious activities via the Internet. Therefore, seven households with 47 followers have abandoned this religion to date.

The government also accused the Ba Co Do religion of taking advantage of religious beliefs and the beliefs of its followers to develop its force and propagate content that divides the great national unity bloc and incites a separatist ideology advocating autonomy and the establishment of a separate state.

In addition to the Ba Co Do religion, 11 households with 55 followers follow the Duong Van Minh religion throughout Lao Cai Province, while 19 households with 96 adherents follow the Gie Sua religious organization.

Ba Co Do, also known as the Church of God Who Loves Us, was founded by Vu Thi Do at the end of 2016. Like other religious organizations not recognized by the government, Ba Co Do is considered an “evil religion,” and its followers are harassed and persecuted.

Dak Lak: The Government Prevents a Group of Believers from The Church of Almighty God to Hold Religious Activities

On Dec. 28, 2023, the government of M'Drak District, Dak Lak Province, discovered six believers in Song Cho Village, Cu San Commune, who were participating in the Church of Almighty God.

The government asked these six believers to sign a pledge to renounce the teaching and participation in the activities of The Church of Almighty God. In addition, the government also confiscated four Bibles and five Bible notebooks related to this church.

According to the authorities, these believers used social media applications such as YouTube, Facebook, Messenger, etc., to promote evangelism, religious activities, Bible study, and prayer.

The government also accused the church of distorting religious teachings, deceiving people, and going against Vietnam’s good customs and traditions.

The Church of Almighty God, known as Eastern Lightning, was founded in 1991 in China. In 1995, China continuously suppressed new religions, so this organization moved to operate in the United States. The religion is estimated to have more than 1 million followers in 21 countries worldwide.

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.