State Department Report Highlights Vietnam’s Persistent Restriction of Religious Freedom

State Department Report Highlights Vietnam’s Persistent Restriction of Religious Freedom

Key events:

  • State Department 2023 Report Highlights Vietnam’s Numerous Religious Freedom Violations
  • Senators Urge State Department to Prioritize Human Rights in Bilateral Relationship with Vietnam
  • China’s Xi Jinping Reminds Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh of ‘Shared Destiny’ in Beijing

State Department 2023 Report Highlights Vietnam’s Persistent Restriction of Religious Freedom

Vietnam has restricted the recognition of new religious organizations and introduced new legal decrees to provide new mechanisms for the central government to suspend religious groups and control the foreign funding they receive, according to the U.S. State Department 2023 Report on International Religious Freedom released on June 26.

The report refers to the Vietnamese Constitution, which guarantees all individuals the right to belief and religion. Furthermore, the Law on Belief and Religion contains vague provisions that could restrict freedom of religion due to national security and social unity. This law also allows the authorities to intervene arbitrarily in the operations of new religious groups and places of worship, especially the groups of ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands or Northern Highlands.

The authorities, for example, have summoned the leaders of these groups for questioning, forced them to follow government demands with threats of administrative fines, and cracked down on unregistered gatherings. In more severe cases, provincial authorities in Dak Lak and Phu Yen provinces charged two members of the unsanctioned Evangelical Church of Christ, Y Krec Bya and Nay Y Blang, and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms. Three Khmer Krom Buddhist practitioners, To Hoang Chuong, Thach Cuong, and Danh Minh Quang, were also arrested in July last year.

According to the report, the authorities have discriminated against unrecognized religious groups, such as the case of Thien Am Ben Bo Vu Tru (the Zen Hermitage at the Edge of the Universe), a small independent Buddhist temple in Long An Province, and Protestant and Catholic groups that existed in the former Republic of Vietnam (1954-75).

In the case of Thien Am Ben Bo Vu Tru, the Long An Provincial Police Department has imprisoned members of the temple for “abusing democratic freedoms” and subsequently launched a similar criminal probe into their defense lawyers on the same charges, prompting them to leave Vietnam. Meanwhile, representatives of Protestant and Catholic communities said the government seized properties of the churches, such as administrative buildings, schools, hospitals, and church houses, and did not return them.

As part of the commitment to defend the freedom of religion worldwide, the State Department said that representatives of the U.S. Embassy and Consulate frequently visited sensitive areas of religious freedom violations to monitor the situation and meet with religious communities there, such as in the Northwest, the Central Highlands, and the Mekong Delta. Last year, the U.S. secretary of state also added Vietnam to the Special Watch List of countries where violations of religious freedom persist.

Senators Urge State Department to Prioritize Human Rights in Bilateral Relationship with Vietnam

Four U.S. senators, including Ben Cardin, chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a joint letter dated June 26, called on Secretary Antony Blinken to address concerns over increasing human rights violations and to prioritize integrating human rights issues into the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship.

The letter, co-written by Senators Chris Coons, Chris Van Hollen, and Jeff Merkley, prompts the State Department to use Washington’s core areas of partnership with Vietnam in economic, trade, and security cooperation in bringing “tangible and sustained progress in Vietnam’s human rights record.” “For the U.S.-Vietnam relationship to reach its full potential,” the letter wrote, “our engagement should be accompanied by tangible progress on human rights and good governance.”

The U.S. lawmakers also emphasized that promoting human rights in Vietnam is a crucial U.S. value and a precondition for developing more meaningful ties between the two nations. They added that the State Department should remind Vietnamese officials that “genuine progress in human rights will enable the deeper economic, trade, and security relationship with the United States.” At the same time, the letter writes, “Vietnamese people also appreciate and acknowledge U.S. support for human rights in Vietnam.”

The joint letter mentioned the worrisome issuance of “Directive No. 24” by the Vietnamese Politburo, which provides official guidelines on further restrictions of civil rights, including freedom of the press and labor rights. The four senators also raised concerns over the Vietnamese authorities’ imprisonment of human rights defenders, climate change activists, and journalists. They called on the State Department to advocate for their immediate release of. Regarding human rights, the letter noted that Washington should not only raise human rights issues in the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue but include them in all bilateral discussions with Hanoi.

Xi Jinping Reminds Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh of ‘Shared Destiny’ in Beijing

Chinese President Xi Jinping reminded Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh of the “China-Vietnam community of shared destiny” in Beijing on June 26 as the Vietnamese official attended the World Economic Forum in Dalian between June 24 and 27, the South China Morning Post reported. Xi also called for Beijing and Hanoi to “properly handle our maritime issues, accelerate joint maritime development, and maintain regional peace and stability together.”

The Chinese president visited Hanoi last December, where he met with Communist chief Nguyen Phu Trong and vowed to enhance the diplomatic relationship with Vietnam through further cooperation in trade, political security, defense, and infrastructure through the Beijing-led Belt and Road Initiatives investment plan. Meanwhile, Chinh said Hanoi was eager to promote multilateral collaboration and to manage differences “appropriately” while opposing “the politicization of trade and tech issues.”

Pham Minh Chinh also met with Wang Huning, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, who wished to bolster cooperation between this political advisory body with the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee. Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, in a previous meeting with the Vietnamese prime minister, affirmed that China always sees the development of bilateral relations with Vietnam “as a priority in its foreign policy,” and Beijing is willing to strengthen collaboration with Hanoi in terms of people-to-people exchanges, culture, and tourism.

Quick take:

Another Facebook User Fined for Posting about Ascetic Monk Thich Minh Tue: The Dong Thap Provincial Police Department has fined T.D.T, a 58-year-old Facebook user, 7.5 million dong ($294) under Cybersecurity Decree 15/2020/CP for his alleged posting and sharing of “false information.” The police have not publicized the content of his postings but revealed that the Facebook user had used the story of walking monk Thich Minh Tue to “insult and defame” the state-controlled Vietnam Buddhist Church and chairman of the People's Committee of Thua Thien-Hue Province.

Former Police Chief Do Huu Ca Receives Sentence Reduction in Appellate Hearing: The High People's Court in Hanoi on June 26 reduced the sentence of  former Hai Phong City Police Chief Do Huu Ca from 10 years to seven years under the conviction of “appropriation of assets.” Previously, a court convicted Ca of this crime after he knowingly took 35 billion dong from a Hai Phong couple accused of “illegally purchasing invoices” to help them clear the charges. In 2012, Do Huu Ca led a mobile police force to enforce the eviction of the lands in Tien Lang District, Hai Phong City, which resulted in the injury of several policemen and civilians.

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Calls for the Release of Vietnamese Political Prisoners: To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Convention Against Torture and the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission called for the release of human rights defenders around the world, including journalist Pham Doan Trang and Protestant church leaders Y Yich and Y Pum Bya. Trang is serving a nine-year imprisonment on “anti-state” charges, while Y Yich and Y Pum Bya were sentenced to 12 and 14 years, respectively, for “undermining national unity policy.” The commission wrote that these Vietnamese political prisoners were subject to torture, mistreatment, and medical neglect while in custody.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Beware of Vietnam’s New Authoritarian President

Human Rights Watch/ Elaine Pearson/ June 21

“Under [To] Lam, Vietnam’s powerful security agency has nearly eradicated the country’s nascent human rights movement. Its agents have arrested virtually everyone who tried to promote democracy and human rights in the country, including members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition, the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, and the Liberal Publishing House. The police seem to target any group whose name includes words the Communist Party of Vietnam fears most: “Democracy,” “Self-Determination,” “Independent,” and “Liberal”.”

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