Both the Constitution and government decrees provide for freedom of worship; however, the Government continued to restrict significantly those publicly organized activities of religious groups that were not recognized by the Government or that it declared to be at variance with state laws and policies. The Government generally allowed persons to practice individual worship in the religion of their choice, and participation in religious activities throughout the country continued to grow significantly. However, restrictions on the hierarchies and clergy of religious groups remained in place, and the Government maintained supervisory control of the recognized religions, in part because the Communist Party (CPV) fears that not only organized religion but any organized group outside its control or supervision may weaken its authority and influence by serving as political, social, and spiritual alternatives to the authority of the central Government.
Religious groups faced difficulties in training and ordaining clergy, and conducting educational and humanitarian activities. Religious figures encountered the greatest restrictions on their activities when they engaged in activities that the CPV perceived as political activism and a challenge to its rule. There were credible reports that in 1999, 2000, and 2001 Hmong Protestant Christians in several northwestern villages were forced to recant their faith. Montagnards also were forced to recant their faith during the period covered by this report. The penal code, as amended in 1997, established penalties for offenses that are defined only vaguely, including "attempting to undermine national unity" by promoting "division between religious believers and nonbelievers." In some cases, particularly involving Hmong Montagnard Protestants and Hoa Hao followers, when authorities charged persons with practicing religion illegally, they used provisions of the penal code that allowed for jail terms of up to 3 years for "abusing freedom of speech, press, or religion." There were reports that officials fabricated evidence, and that some of the provisions of the law used to convict religious prisoners contradicted international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to credible reports, the police arbitrarily detained persons based on their religious beliefs and practice, particularly in the mountainous ethnic minority areas. However, police abuses of unrecognized Protestants in the Central Highlands in part were related to the independence movement actively espoused by some Protestant groups.
The Government controlled the administrative process leading to the creation of official organizations for the major sanctioned religions, including the naming of their officers. In some cases, (most notably with the Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Buddhist religions), some former leaders of the nonofficial pre-1975 organizations, as well as many believers, rejected the official organizations.
Overall, there were some improvements in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Official government recognition is required for all religious groups (as well as for social organizations) to operate legally; those without official status, especially certain sects and denominations of Buddhists, Protestants, Hoa Hao, and others, operated illegally and at their own risk. Oversight of recognized religions and harassment of nonrecognized religious followers varied from locality to locality, apparently not entirely as a matter of national policy. These restrictions were particularly harsh in some border provinces during the reporting period, although religious practice and observance became easier for worshipers in other parts of the country. During the period covered by this report, members of unrecognized religious groups were beaten, arrested, and detained by the authorities. In April 2001, the Government officially recognized the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV). However, following ethnic unrest in February 2001 in the Central Highlands provinces of Gia Lai and Dak Lak, the Government took action against Protestant ethnic minorities whom it suspected of participating in unauthorized political activities. Many of these Protestant ethnic minorities, however, did not belong to recognized denominations, and were not protesting for religious reasons, but rather were protesting against the loss of traditional homelands to recent migrants, mostly ethnic Vietnamese, and abusive police treatment in the provinces. The authorities detained several Protestant leaders and security forces harassed some local Christians. Some ethnic minority Protestants reportedly were forced or pressured to recant their faith, especially those suspected of belonging to a Protestant group that advocated political autonomy for the region. Foreign diplomats visited the Central Highlands several times during the period covered by this report, although the provinces continued to provide "escorts" and plainclothes "security." The Government continued to permit increased, but supervised access to these provinces by diplomats, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other foreigners, making it somewhat difficult to verify conditions in those areas. Police routinely questioned persons who advocated non-mainstream religious views and arbitrarily detained persons based on their religious beliefs and practices. Groups of Protestant Christians, who were worshipping in house churches in ethnic minority areas, arbitrarily were subjected to detention and harassment by local officials who occasionally broke up unsanctioned religious meetings. Authorities also imprisoned persons for practicing religion "illegally" by using provisions of the penal code that allow for jail terms of up to 3 years for "abusing freedom of speech, press, or religion." The estimated number of religious prisoners and detainees exceeds 40 persons.
The relationship among religions in society generally is amicable. In various parts of the country, there were modest levels of cooperation and dialog between Catholics and Protestants, and also between Buddhists and Cao Dai. Religious figures from most major recognized religions participated in official bodies such as the Vietnam Fatherland Front and the National Assembly.
The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) maintained an active and regular dialog with senior- and working-level government officials to advocate greater religious freedom. The U.S. Ambassador and other U.S. officials discussed concerns about the detention and arrest of religious figures and other restrictions on religious freedom with cabinet ministers, Communist Party officials, provincial officials, and others. Intervention by the U.S. Government may have prompted the Government to recognize additional Protestant denominations, and to moderate treatment of ethnic minority Protestants in the Central Highlands, and to promote some liberalization of Government treatment of other religions.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has a total area of approximately 122,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 80 million. The Government officially recognizes one Buddhist organization (Buddhists make up approximately 50 percent of the population), one Roman Catholic organization (Catholics make up approximately 8 percent of the population), several Cao Dai organizations (Cao Dai followers make up 1.5 percent of the population), one Hoa Hao organization (Hoa Hao followers make up 1.5 percent of the population), two Protestant organizations (Protestants make up 1.2 percent of the population), and one Muslim organization (Muslims make up 0.1 percent of the population). Approximately 38 percent of citizens consider themselves nonreligious.
Among the country's religious communities, Buddhism is the dominant religious belief. Many Buddhists practice an amalgam of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucian traditions that sometimes is called the country's "triple religion." Some estimates suggest that more than half of the population is at least nominally Buddhist. Buddhists typically visit pagodas on festival days, and have a worldview that is shaped in part by Buddhism, but in reality these beliefs often rely on a very expansive definition of the faith. Many individuals, especially among the ethnic majority Kinh, who may not consider themselves Buddhist, nonetheless follow traditional Confucian and Taoist practices and often visit Buddhist temples. One prominent Buddhist official has estimated that only about 30 percent of Buddhists are devout and practice their faith regularly. The Office of Religious Affairs uses a much lower estimate of 7 million practicing Buddhists. Mahayana Buddhists, most of whom are part of the ethnic Kinh majority, are found throughout the country, especially in the populous areas of the northern and southern delta regions. There are fewer Buddhists, proportionately, in certain highland areas, although migration of Kinh to highland areas is changing the distribution somewhat. Mahayana Buddhist monks in the country historically have engaged on occasion in political and social issues, most notably during the 1960s, when some monks campaigned for peace and against perceived injustices in the former Republic of Vietnam. A Khmer ethnic minority in the south practices Theravada Buddhism. Numbering just over 1 million persons, they live almost exclusively in the Mekong Delta.
There are an estimated 6 to 7 million Roman Catholics in the country (approximately 8 to 9 percent of the population). French missionaries introduced the religion in the 17th century. In the 1940's, priests in the large Catholic dioceses of Phat Diem and Bui Chu, to the southeast of Hanoi, organized a political association with a militia that fought against the Communist guerrillas until defeated in 1954. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics from the northern part of the country fled to HCMC (then called Saigon) and to the surrounding areas ahead of the 1954 partition of North and South. Catholics live throughout the country, but the largest concentrations remain in the southern provinces around HCMC and in the provinces just southeast of Hanoi. Catholicism has revived in northern regions. In recent years, congregations in the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong and many nearby provinces have rebuilt churches and reinstituted religious services.
Recently several bishoprics that had been vacant for a number of years were filled by the Vatican, in coordination with the Government. In June 2000, a bishop was named for Da Nang province, and in August 2000, a bishop was named for Vinh Long province. During a Vatican delegation's visit in June 2001, the Government reportedly agreed to the Vatican's appointment of three additional bishops: a new bishop for Bui Chu Diocese; an auxiliary bishop for HCMC; and a coadjutor bishop for Phan Thiet. There are reports of some narrowing of differences between the church and the Government over three remaining vacancies -- a bishop of Hung Hoa Diocese, a coadjutor bishop of Hanoi, and a bishop of Haiphong Diocese. Provincial authorities have explicit veto power over the transfer of priests and the assignment of newly ordained priests, and exercised that power on at least three occasions during the period covered by this report. Government officials nonetheless have stated that they "view the Catholic Church as a positive force."
There are at least 1,000,000 Protestants in the country (over 1.2 percent of the population), with more than half of these persons belonging to a large number of unregistered evangelical "house churches" that operate in members' homes or in rural villages, many of them in ethnic minority areas. Protestantism, particularly the house church movement in ethnic minority areas, is the fastest growing religion in the country. Perhaps as many as 175,000 or more of the followers of house churches are Pentecostals, who celebrate "gifts of the spirit" through charismatic forms of worship. Protestantism in the country dates from 1911, when an American missionary from the Christian and Missionary Alliance arrived in Da Nang. Reports from believers indicated that Protestant church attendance continued to grow during the period covered by this report, especially among the house churches, despite continued government restrictions on proselytizing activities. Based on believers' estimates, two-thirds of Protestants are members of ethnic minorities, including ethnic Hmong, Tai, and other ethnic minorities (an estimated 200,000 followers) in the northwest provinces and some 350,000 members of ethnic minority groups of the Central Highlands (Ede, Jarai, Bahnar, and Koho, among others). The house church movement in the northwest was sparked in part by Hmong language radio broadcasts from the Philippines beginning in the late 1980's. In more recent years, missionaries, mostly ethnic Hmong, have increased evangelism in the area.
The Cao Dai religion was founded in 1926 in the southern part of the country. The Office of Religious Affairs estimates that there are 1.1 million Cao Dai. Some NGO sources estimate that there are from 2 to 3 million followers. Cao Dai groups are most active in Tay Ninh Province, where the Cao Dai "Holy See" is located, and in HCMC and the Mekong Delta. There are 13 separate groups within the Cao Dai religion; the largest is the Tay Ninh sect which is comprised of more than half of all Cao Dai believers. The Cao Dai religion is syncretistic, combining elements of many faiths. Its basic belief system is influenced strongly by Mahayana Buddhism, although it recognizes a diverse array of persons who have conveyed divine revelation, including Siddhartha, Jesus, Lao-Tse, Confucius, and Moses. During the 1940's and 1950's, the Cao Dai participated in political and military activities. Their opposition to the Communist forces until 1975 was a factor in government repression after 1975. A small Cao Dai sect, the Thien Tien sect, was recognized in 1995. The Tay Ninh Cao Dai sect was granted legal recognition in 1997.
The Hoa Hao, considered by some of its followers to be a "reform" branch of Buddhism, was founded in the southern part of the country in 1939. Hoa Hao is a largely privatistic faith, emphasizing private acts of worship and devotion, that does not have a priesthood and rejects many of the ceremonial aspects of mainstream Buddhism. According to the Office of Religious Affairs, there are 1.3 million Hoa Hao followers; affiliated expatriate groups estimate that there may be up to 3 million followers. Hoa Hao followers are concentrated in the Mekong Delta, particularly in provinces such as An Giang, where the Hoa Hao were dominant as a political and military as well as a religious force before 1975. Elements of the Hoa Hao were among the last to surrender to Communist forces in the Mekong Delta in the summer of 1975.
Mosques serving the country's small Muslim population, estimated at 65,000 persons, operate in western An Giang province, HCMC, Hanoi, and provinces in the southern coastal part of the country. The Muslim community mainly is composed of ethnic Cham, although in HCMC and An Giang province it includes some ethnic Vietnamese and migrants originally from Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. About half of the Muslims in the country practice Sunni Islam. Sunni Muslims are concentrated in five locations around the country. Approximately 15,000 live in Tan Chau district of western An Giang province which borders Cambodia. Nearly 3,000 live in western Tay Ninh province, which also borders Cambodia. More than 5,000 Muslims reside in HCMC, with 2,000 residing in neighboring Dong Nai province. Another 5,000 live in the south central coastal provinces of Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan. Approximately 50 percent of Muslims practice Bani Islam, a type of Islam unique to the ethnic Cham who live on the central coast of the country. Bani clerics fast during Ramadan; ordinary Bani followers do not. The Bani Koran is an abridged version of only about 20 pages, written in the Cham language. The Bani also continue to participate in certain traditional Cham festivals, which include prayers to Hindu gods and to traditional Cham "mother goddesses." Both groups of Muslims appear to be on cordial terms with the Government and are able to practice their faith freely. They have limited contact with foreign Muslim countries.
There are a variety of smaller religious communities not recognized by the Government, the largest of which is the Hindu community. Approximately 50,000 ethnic Cham in the south-central coastal area practice a devotional form of Hinduism. Another 4,000 Hindus live in HCMC; some are ethnic Cham, but most are Indian or of mixed Indian-Vietnamese descent.
There are estimated to be from several hundred to 2,000 members of the Baha'i Faith, largely concentrated in the south; a number of whom are foreign-born. Prior to 1975, there were an estimated 130,000 believers, according to Baha'i officials.
There are several hundred members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) who are spread throughout the country but live primarily in HCMC and Hanoi.
Of the country's approximately 80 million citizens, 14 million or more reportedly do not practice any organized religion. Some sources strictly define those considered to be practicing Buddhists, excluding those whose activities are limited to visiting pagodas on ceremonial holidays. Using this definition, the number of nonreligious persons would be much higher, perhaps as high as 50 million. No statistics are available on the level of participation in formal religious services, but it generally is acknowledged that this number has continued to increase from a relatively low base in the early 1990s.
Ethnic minorities constitute approximately 14% of the overall population. The minorities historically have practiced sets of traditional beliefs different from those of the ethnic majority Kinh. Except for the Khmer, most minorities are less likely to be Buddhist and are more likely to be Protestant than the majority Kinh.
Several dozen foreign missionary groups throughout the country are engaged in developmental, humanitarian, educational, and relief efforts. These organizations legally are registered as NGOs providing humanitarian assistance. Foreign missionaries legally are not permitted to proselytize or to carry out religious activities. In order to work in the country, they must be registered with the Government as an international NGO.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
Both the Constitution and government decrees provide for freedom of belief and worship as well as of non-belief; however, the Government continued to restrict significantly those organized activities of religious groups that it declared to be at variance with state laws and policies. The Government generally allowed persons to practice individual worship freely and to participate in public worship under the leadership of any of the major recognized religions--the Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Muslim religions. Participation in religious activities throughout the country continued to grow significantly. However, the Government used regulations to control closely religious hierarchies and organized religious activities. While the Office on Religious Affairs oversees recognized religious bodies and is tasked with protecting their rights, in practice there are few effective legal remedies for violations of religious freedom committed by government officials. The constitutional right of freedom of belief and religion is interpreted and enforced unevenly. In some areas, such as parts of HCMC, local officials allow relatively wide latitude to believers; in other provinces in the north, the Central Highlands, and the central coast, religious believers are subject to significant harassment because of the lack of effective legal enforcement and are subject to the whims of local officials in their respective jurisdictions. For example, some religious groups that lacked registration were subjected to local government harassment. This particularly was true for Protestant and United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) supporters. There are no known cases in recent years in which the courts acted to interpret laws so as to protect a person's right to religious freedom.
The secular Government does not favor a particular religion. The prominent traditional position of Buddhism does not affect religious freedom for others adversely, including those who wish not to practice a religion. The Constitution expressly protects the right of "non-belief" as well as "belief." The Government requires religious and other groups to register and uses this process to control and monitor religious organizations, as it does with all social organizations. The Government officially recognizes Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai and Muslim religious organizations. However, some leaders of Buddhist, Protestant, and Hoa Hao organizations and many believers of these religions do not recognize or participate in the government-approved associations. Some leaders of the pre-1975 Buddhist and Hoa Hao religious bodies unsuccessfully have requested official recognition of their organizations. Their activities, and those of the unregistered Protestant "house churches" are considered illegal by the authorities, and they sometimes experience harassment as a result. Under the law, only those activities and organizations expressly sanctioned by the Government are deemed to be legal. In order for a group to obtain official recognition, it must obtain government approval of its leadership, its structure, and the overall scope of its activities. Recognized religious groups in principle are allowed to open, operate, and refurbish places of worship, to train religious leaders, and to obtain permission for the publication of materials.
Officially recognized religious organizations are able to operate openly in most parts of the country, and followers of these religions are able to worship without government harassment. Officially recognized organizations must consult with the Government about their religious and administrative operations, although not about their religious tenets of faith. While the Government does not directly appoint the leadership of the official religious organizations, to varying degrees it plays an influential role in shaping the process of selection and must approve investitures of religious titles. The Government's influence varies by level of the title, religion, and local authority. For example the power to approve a religious office holder below the provincial level lies with the provincial government. Higher level officials receive much closer scrutiny. Decree 26/1999 explicitly gives the Government the power to approve all holders of religious offices, and the Government effectively, but not explicitly, has veto power. In general, religious bodies are confined to dealing specifically with spiritual and organizational matters. Over the past several years, the Government has accorded much greater latitude to followers of recognized religious organizations, and the majority of the country's religious followers have continued to benefit from this development. The Government has held conferences to discuss and publicize its religious decrees. The Religious Affairs Committee has met with house church leaders from HCMC and the Central Highlands.
Religious organizations must register their regular activities with the authorities annually. Religious organizations must obtain government permission to hold training seminars, conventions, and celebrations outside the regular religious calendar; to build or remodel places of worship; to engage in charitable activities or to operate religious schools; and to train, ordain, promote, or transfer clergy. They also must obtain government permission for large mass gatherings, as do nonreligious groups. Many of these restrictive powers lie principally with provincial or city people's committees, and local treatment of religious persons varies widely. In April 2001 the Government recognized the SECV. The SECV was able to elect its own officers, apparently free of government control. The newly recognized church is represented in all of the southern provinces of the country. The SECV is descended from churches associated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA). Some additional "underground" congregations that were once affiliated with the CMA reportedly joined the SECV. However, it appeared that the Government was allowing few former CMA churches in the Central Highlands to join the SECV during the period covered by this report. The northern branch of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN), which also is a derivative of the CMA, has been recognized since 1963 and officially has 15 approved churches in the northern part of the country. A number of other Protestant groups were engaged in discussions with the Government on registration during the period covered by this report.
The Government turned down an attempt by the Baha'i Faith to register during the period covered by this report because the Baha'i had not yet met the administrative criteria for registration. It is unknown which specific criteria the Baha'is were unable to satisfy; however, it is believed that this was not a permanent refusal.
The degree of Government control of church activities varied greatly among localities. In some areas, especially in the south, Catholic churches operated kindergartens and engaged in a variety of humanitarian projects. Buddhist groups engaged in humanitarian activities in many parts of the country. Foreign missionaries and religious organizations are not allowed to operate as such in the country, but many are registered as NGOs with the Government to carry out humanitarian assistance. They may not engage in overt proselytization.
Most Catholic churches are allowed to provide religious education to children. Children also are taught religion at Khmer Buddhist pagodas and at mosques outside regular classroom hours.
Because of the lack of meaningful due process in the legal system, the actions of religious adherents are subject to the discretion of local officials in their respective jurisdictions. There are no meaningful punishments for government officials who do not follow laws protecting religious practice in particular. Because the court system is subservient to the Communist Party and its political decisions, and because persons are not charged specifically with religious offenses, there are no known recent cases in which the courts acted to interpret laws so as to protect a person's right to religious freedom.
There are no specific religious national holidays.
The Office of Religious Affairs occasionally hosts meetings for leaders of diverse religious traditions to address religious matters.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The Government continued to maintain broad legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom, although in many areas, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai reported an increase in religious activity and observance. Operational and organizational restrictions on the hierarchies and clergy of most religious groups remained in place. Religious groups faced difficulty in obtaining teaching materials, expanding training facilities, publishing religious materials, and expanding the number of clergy in religious training in response to increased demand from congregations, although these types of restrictions appeared to be easing.
The Government continued to ban and actively discourage participation in what it regards as illegal religious groups, including the UBCV and Protestant house churches, as well as the unapproved Hoa Hao groups. The withholding of official recognition of religious bodies is one of the means by which the Government actively intervenes to restrict religious activities by some believers. Religious and organizational activities by UBCV monks are illegal, and all UBCV activities outside of private temple worship are proscribed. Most evangelical house churches do not attempt to register because they believe that their applications would be denied, or because they want to avoid any semblance of government control.
The Government requires all Buddhist monks to work under the officially recognized Buddhist organization, the Central Buddhist Church of Vietnam (CBS). The Government influenced the selection of the leadership of the CBS, excluding leaders and supporters of the pre-1975 Buddhist organization. The Government also restricted the number of Buddhist monks that may be trained. Khmer Theravada Buddhists are allowed a somewhat separate identity with the CBS. The Government continued to oppose efforts by the unrecognized UBCV to operate independently, and tension between the Government and the UBCV continued. Several prominent UBCV monks, including Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, continued to face Government restrictions on their civil liberties during the period covered by this report.
Buddhist UBCV monks in Hue also continued to complain that petitions to local authorities for permission to repair or renovate pagodas go unanswered. The UBCV monks in Hue complain that the CBS has "donated" Buddhist properties for Government use. Buddhist believers in Ha Nam province complained that CBS pagoda grounds have been seized in recent years and that their complaints go unanswered. Monks at the One Pillar Pagoda (CBS) in Hanoi have resisted local government efforts to replace them with monks favored by the local government. The Roman Catholic Church continued to face many restrictions on the training and ordination of priests, nuns, and bishops. The Government effectively maintains veto power over Vatican appointments of bishops; however, in practice it has sought to cooperate with the Church in nominations for appointment. The Prime Minister received the Episcopal Council (the grouping of Bishops nationwide) for the first time in December 2001. During the period covered by this report, the Catholic Church hierarchy remained frustrated by government restrictions; but it has learned to accommodate itself to them. A number of clergy reported a modest easing of government control over church activities in certain dioceses, including in a few churches in Hanoi and HCMC that offer English-language masses for expatriates. The Church was able to engage in religious education, including the education of children, and to perform charitable activities in some geographic areas. Six Roman Catholic seminaries throughout the country had over 800 students enrolled; new seminarians are recruited every 2 years. A seventh seminary has been approved by the Government. All students must be approved by the Government, both upon entering the seminary and prior to their ordination as priests. The Church believes that the number of students being ordained is insufficient to support the growing Catholic population.
Until 2001 approximately 15 ECVN churches in the northern provinces were the only officially recognized Protestant churches. The ECVN has not held an annual meeting or elected new leadership since 1988, reportedly because the Government and the ECVN have been unable to reach consensus on new ECVN leadership. The ECVN operated seminary closed in 1993, although informal training of religious and lay leaders continues. The Government reportedly has rebuffed attempts by largely Hmong house churches to affiliate with the ECVN over the last several years. On April 17, 2001, the former ECVN church building in Vinh, Nghe An province was torn down. The Government had expropriated the building in the 1960's and the congregation since has been meeting in members' homes.
In April 2001, the Government conferred legal recognition on the SECV. This body represents several hundred Protestant churches primarily in the southern part of the country, with representatives from every southern province, including the Central Highlands, where many "house churches" operate. Some SECV churches exist in other large cities such as Da Nang. Officials in the SECV's main HCMC office have stated that gradual progress in improving their church's situation was determined to be preferable to outright confrontation with the Government. Many pastors of Protestant denominations such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Mennonites, Baptists, and the Assemblies of God (AOG) still do not wish to join the SECV because of doctrinal differences. The Government still represses the AOG by causing members to lose their jobs, forbidding their children from attending school, or confiscating their property, but it no longer imprisons AOG believers or pastors. It still is unclear to what extent provincial officials will allow the house churches, particularly those whose members are ethnic minorities, to be represented by or to participate in the organization. Because of past government repression of Protestantism, particularly in the Central Highlands, some Protestant pastors in that area are suspicious of the SECV and reportedly do not plan to seek affiliation with it. There are over 400 Protestant congregations in Dak Lak province and a similar number in Gia Lai province in the Central Highlands. So far, however, only 2 congregations in Dak Lak and only 3 in Gia Lai have become legally affiliated with the SECV. It is not known whether the SECV is to be allowed, or would like, to have formal ties to the legally recognized ECVN, based in Hanoi.
The provincial governments restrict Protestant practice in the Central Highlands, particularly among the region's ethnic minorities, such as the Mnong, Ede, Jarai and Bahnar. The provincial governments also restrict Protestant congregations from cooperating on joint religious observances or other activities, although in some localities they were free to do so. Protestant Christmas celebrations in the Central Highlands were allowed in some localities, but prohibited in others. There is substantial networking among Protestant denominations in HCMC, but less networking in the rest of the country. "Underground" churches from pre-1975 denominations generally were reported to have fewer restrictions than those that were established more recently. Provincial officials in Lai Chau, Ha Giang, and other provinces in the north and northwest sometimes attempted to pressure Hmong and other ethnic minority Christians to recant their faith. Some provincial officials reportedly have encouraged Hmong clan elders to convince members of their clans to renounce their faith. Efforts to force Protestants to deny their faith appear to be connected to the CPV's Program 184, designed to reverse the spread of Protestantism in areas where it has been advancing rapidly. Local and provincial officials in these areas circulated official documents urging persons to give up their illegal "foreign" religion and to practice traditional animist beliefs and ancestor worship. Regional and police newspapers printed articles documenting how persons were deceived into following the house church "cults."
The Hoa Hao have faced severe restrictions on their religious and political activities since 1975, in part because of their previous armed opposition to the Communist forces. After 1975 all administrative offices, places of worship, and social and cultural institutions connected to the Hoa Hao faith were closed. Believers continued to practice their religion at home but the lack of access to public gathering places contributed to the Hoa Hao community's isolation and fragmentation. A new official Hoa Hao body, the Hoa Hao Central Buddhist Church (HHCBC), was formed in 1999. Several leaders of the Hoa Hao community, including several pre-1975 leaders, openly criticized the HHCBC, claiming that it was subservient to the Government, and demanded official recognition of their own Hoa Hao body instead. In February 2000 a group of Hoa Hao believers tried to establish an association independent of the government sanctioned HHCBC. They petitioned the Government for official recognition without success. Some of these persons then protested and were arrested and imprisoned. The group's highest officers continued to be incarcerated in prison or under house arrest at the end of the period covered by this report. However, in June 2001 an estimated 300,000 Hoa Hao believers gathered for a religious festival in An Giang province. The Government restricts the number of clergy that the Hoa Hao can train.
The Government never dissolved the Cao Dai church but placed it under the control of the Vietnam Fatherland Front in 1977. The Government banned several of its essential ceremonies because it considered them to be "superstitious," and it imprisoned and reportedly killed many Cao Dai clergy in the late 1970's. In 1995 the Government recognized the Thien Tien sect of Cao Dai. In 1997 the Cao Dai under government oversight reorganized the religion and set up a new "Management Council" of cooperative Cao Dai priests who drew up a new constitution. When the council rewrote the Cao Dai constitution, it banned certain traditional rituals that the Government deemed "superstitious," including the use of mediums to communicate with spirits. Because the use of mediums was essential to ceremonies accompanying promotion of clerics to higher ranks, the new Cao Dai constitution effectively banned clerical promotions. In December 1999 the Management Council reached agreement with Cao Dai clergy that the Cao Dai church would modify its rituals in a way that would be acceptable to the Government, but maintain enough spiritual direction to be acceptable to Cao Dai principles. As a result, a congress was held in which several hundred Cao Dai clergy were promoted for the first time since 1975. The Cao Dai Management Council has the power to control all of the affairs of the Cao Dai faith, and thereby manages the church's operations, its hierarchy, and its clergy within the country. Independent Cao Dai officials oppose the edicts of this council as unfaithful to Cao Dai principles and traditions. It is unknown if any Cao Dai seminary exists, if the Cao Dai want to open one, or if the Government prevented the Cao Dai from opening one.
The Muslim Association of Vietnam was banned in 1975 but reauthorized in 1992. It is the only registered Muslim organization in the country. Association leaders state that they are able to practice their faith, including saying daily prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and making the Hajj to Mecca. At least 55 Muslims journeyed to Mecca for the Hajj in 2001; Saudi Arabia and Dubai paid their travel expenses. In 2002 no Muslims made the Hajj. Muslim sources in the country stated this was because the traditional financial sponsors had curtailed their foreign sponsorships in late 2001, not because of any restriction on travel for the Hajj on the part of the Government.
The Government restricts and monitors all forms of public assembly, including assembly for religious activities; however, on some occasions, large religious gatherings have been allowed, such as the Catholic celebrations at La Vang, and the 2002 Easter sunrise service, which was witnessed by foreign dignitaries in Kon Tum, and which was attended by over 10,000 Protestant worshippers. Attendance at Buddhist festivals and pilgrimage sites has increased dramatically in recent years. The Hoa Hao also have been allowed to hold large public gatherings in An Giang province on certain Hoa Hao festival days, however, before 1975 they were not permitted to hold any large public gatherings. There were no reports that the Government refused permission for festivals it previously permitted. On the anniversary of the death of the Hoa Hao founder, large gatherings were discouraged. In 2001 and 2002, Hoa Hao leaders did not attempt to organize a large independent commemoration; however, several Hoa Hao followers were allowed to travel individually and in small groups to the traditional pilgrimage site to commemorate the anniversary peacefully.
In April 1999, the Government issued a decree on religion that prescribed the rights and responsibilities of religious believers. The religious decree states that persons formerly detained or imprisoned must obtain special permission from the authorities before they may resume religious activities. Religious activities reportedly are not allowed in prisons, nor are visits by religious workers. Some persons previously detained were released and were active in their religious communities during the period covered by this report, including at least two from HCMC.
The Government prohibits proselytizing by foreign missionary groups. Some missionaries visited the country despite this prohibition and carried on informal proselytizing activities. The Government deported some foreign persons for unauthorized proselytizing, sometimes defining proselytizing very broadly. Other individuals apparently suspected of proselytizing have been unable to renew their visas. Proselytizing by citizens is restricted to regularly scheduled religious services in recognized places of worship. Non-citizens must comply with the law when practicing their religions. In both Hanoi and HCMC, there were Sunday morning Catholic masses conducted in English by local Vietnamese priests for the convenience of foreigners. In both cities, there also were well-publicized Christian worship services for foreigners conducted by foreigners, some of whom were affiliated with religious NGOs, although the legal status of these services is unclear. Muslim services attended by citizens and foreigners took place in both cities.
The Government restricts persons who belong to unofficial religious groups from speaking publicly about their beliefs. It officially requires all religious publishing to be done by the Religious Publishing House, which is a part of the Office of Religious Affairs, or by other government approved publishing houses once the Government approves the proposed items. A range of Buddhist sacred scriptures, Bibles, and other religious texts and publications are printed by these organizations and are distributed openly. The government-sanctioned Hoa Hao Committee has printed 15,000 copies of publications of parts of the Hoa Hao sacred scriptures; however, Hoa Hao believers reported that the Government continued to restrict the distribution of the full scriptures, specifically the poetry of the Founder. However, the official Hoa Hao Representative Committee cited a lack of funds, not government restrictions, as the reason why the Hoa Hao scriptures had not yet been published in full. The Muslim Association reportedly was able to print enough copies of the Koran in 2000 to distribute one to each Muslim believer in the country.
The Government allows religious travel for some, but not all, religious persons; Muslims are able to undertake the Hajj, and many Buddhist and Catholic officials also have been able to travel abroad. For example, groups of Buddhist monks and nuns have traveled to Burma to study Theravada Buddhism. However, religious believers who do not belong to officially recognized religions sometimes are not approved for foreign travel. For example, the Buddhist monk Thich Thai Hoa has been refused permission to travel outside the country on several occasions, including to New York in September 2000. However, some ministers of "underground" Protestant churches have been able to travel overseas since early 2001. Like other citizens, religious persons who travel abroad sometimes are questioned about their activities upon their return. Upon return from international travel, citizens, including clergy, citizens and clergy sometimes are required to surrender their passports. The Government allowed many Catholic bishops and priests to travel freely within their dioceses and allowed greater, but still restricted, freedom for travel outside of these areas, particularly in many ethnic areas. Local officials reportedly discourage priests from entering Son La and Lai Chau provinces.
Religious affiliation is indicated on citizens' national identification cards and on "family books," which are household identification documents. In practice, many citizens who consider themselves religious do not indicate this on their identification card, and government statistics list them as nonreligious. The Government does not designate persons' religions on passports. The Government allows, and in some cases encourages, links by officially recognized religious bodies with coreligionists in other countries if the religious groups are approved by the Government. The Government actively discourages contacts between the UBCV and its foreign Buddhist supporters. Contacts between Vatican authorities and the domestic Catholic Church occur routinely, and the Government maintains a regular, active dialog with the Vatican on a range of issues including organizational activities, the prospect of establishing diplomatic relations, and a possible papal visit. However, contacts between some illegal Protestant organizations such as the house churches and their foreign supporters are discouraged. Efforts to block contact between illegal Protestant organizations and overseas contacts are not as vigorous or universal as efforts to block contact between the UBCV and its overseas supporters appeared to be.
Adherence to a religious faith generally does not disadvantage persons in civil, economic, and secular life, although it likely would prevent advancement to the highest government and military ranks. Attainment of senior military rank is not a prerequisite for senior government or private sector employment. The military does not have a chaplaincy. Avowed religious practice has been a bar to membership in the Communist Party, although Party sources indicated that thousands of the 2.4 million Communist Party members are religious believers. Party and government officials routinely visited pagodas and temples and sometimes even attended Christian church services.
The religious decree of April 1999 stated that no religious organization can reclaim lands or properties taken over by the State following the end of the 1954 war against French rule and the 1975 Communist victory in the south. Despite this blanket prohibition, the Government has returned some church properties confiscated since 1975. The People's Committee of HCMC returned two properties to the Catholic Church. On one of the properties, in Cu Chi District, the church is constructing an HIV/AIDS hospice to be operated by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. The other property is now a church-operated orphanage. One of the vice-chairmen of the official Buddhist Sangha stated that approximately 30 percent of Buddhist properties confiscated in HCMC have been returned since 1975, and from 5 to 10 percent of all Buddhist properties confiscated in the south have been returned. However, UBCV leaders stated that their properties were not returned. The former Protestant seminary in Nha Trang is used for secular purposes, as is a former Protestant seminary in Hanoi. Most Cao Dai and Hoa Hao properties also have not been returned, according to church leaders. The official Representative Committee for the Hoa Hao stated that the Government returned 12 previously confiscated Hoa Hao pagodas in Dong Thap province during the period covered by this report.
The Government does not permit religious instruction in public schools; however, it does permit clergy to teach at universities in subjects in which they are qualified. Several Catholic nuns and at least one Catholic priest teach at HCMC universities. They are not allowed to wear religious dress when they teach or to identify themselves as clergy. Catholic religious education, on weekends or evenings, is permitted in most areas and has increased in recent years, most notably in HCMC. Khmer Theravada Buddhists and Cham Muslims regularly hold religious and language classes outside of normal classroom hours in their respective pagodas and mosques.
In March 2001, teachers at a public primary school in Ban Don district reportedly ordered all the Christian students to renounce Christ. When the students refused, they were suspended from school and not allowed to return until further notice. Local sources alleged that authorities in many localities in Dak Lak prohibited Protestant children from attending school past the third grade. By the end of the period covered by this report, it was unknown whether or not the students returned. Discrimination of this sort has been denied by local authorities, but such reports still persist.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
A significant number of religious believers experience harassment because they operate without legal sanction. Local officials have repressed unregistered Protestant believers in the northwest provinces, the Central Highlands, and other areas, through the demolition of churches and through pressure to renounce their religious beliefs. Some UBCV leaders continued to be harassed and had their rights severely restricted by the Government. Officials also have detained or otherwise harassed some persons, primarily Buddhists and ethnic majority Kinh, who have used purported spiritual activities or powers to cheat and deceive believers. Police authorities routinely question persons who hold dissident religious or political views. Credible reports suggest that police arbitrarily detained, beat, and harassed an unknown number of persons based on their religious beliefs and practice, particularly in mountainous ethnic minority areas.
The penal code establishes penalties for offenses that are defined only vaguely, including "attempting to undermine national unity" by promoting "division between religious believers and non-believers." In some cases, particularly involving Hmong Protestants, authorities have used provisions of the penal code that allow for jail terms of up to 3 years without trial for "abusing freedom of speech, press, or religion." There have been ongoing complaints that officials fabricated evidence and that some of the provisions of the law used to convict religious prisoners contradict the right to freedom of religion.
A 1997 directive on administrative probation gives national and local security officials broad powers to detain and monitor citizens and control where they live and work for up to 2 years if they are believed to be threatening "national security." In their implementation of administrative probation, some local authorities held persons under conditions resembling house arrest. The authorities use administrative probation as a means of controlling persons whom they believe hold dissident opinions. Some local authorities cite "abuse of religious freedom" as a reason to impose administrative probation.
The authorities in the northwest provinces reportedly restricted the religious freedom of evangelical Protestants, including ethnic Hmong and ethnic Tai. The growth of Protestant house churches in ethnic minority areas continued to lead to tensions with local officials, particularly in several border provinces. Several leaders of these churches, especially among the Hmong in the northwest and among ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands, reportedly were harassed or detained. The underground nature of the house churches, notably among ethnic minorities, has contributed to greater repression of these groups. There are unconfirmed reports that house churches are tolerated or ignored in some places, but the extent and provincial locations in which this occurs are unknown. Provincial officials in certain northwest provinces reportedly do not allow churches or pagodas to operate. Reports of arrest and imprisonment for nonviolent religious practice continue to persist, especially in large groups in contravention of local government edicts, because national security and national solidarity provisions in the Constitution override guarantees of religious freedom.
On numerous occasions throughout the country, small groups of Protestants belonging to house churches were subjected to arbitrary detention after local officials broke up unsanctioned religious meetings. There were many reported instances, particularly in remote provinces, in which Protestant house church followers were punished or fined by local officials for participation in peaceful religious activities such as worship and Bible study. According to credible reports from the Central Highlands, some local officials extorted goods, livestock, and money from Protestant believers. There were reports from the northwest and the Central Highlands of local officials driving ethnic minority persons out of their home villages for refusing to renounce their Protestant faith. The extent to which religious affiliation or other factors such as ethnicity or political activism caused these reported abuses cannot be determined.
In December 1999, Nguyen Thi Thuy, a Protestant house church leader in Phu Tho province, was sentenced to 1 year in prison after police raided her home (where she was leading a Bible study group). In March 2000, in what is believed to be the first case of its kind, a defense lawyer appealed Thuy's conviction by arguing that her arrest in her home, while practicing her faith, violated her constitutional right to religious freedom. A judge dismissed her appeal, and her 1-year sentence was upheld. She was released in September 2000 after serving 11 months of her 12-month sentence. An ethnic Hre church leader, Dinh Troi, was detained in Quang Ngai province in 1999. It is believed that he still was imprisoned at the end of the period covered by this report.
Despite the Government's restrictions, Protestant worship continued to grow. Repression of Protestantism in the Central Highlands is complicated by the presence of a group, the "Dega Protestants", that advocates a separate state for the indigenous persons who live in the area, particularly in southern Gia Lai and northwestern Dak Lak provinces. The Dega Protestants have links to a group residing in the U.S. that has proclaimed itself a Dega "government-in-exile." The Dega Protestants' relationship with the more apolitical Protestant believers in the area has deteriorated. The Dega Protestants reportedly have made threats against certain mainstream Protestant pastors. Local authorities use this split to try to isolate the Dega Protestants particularly in southern Gia Lai and northwestern Dak Lak provinces. A small number of Protestant pastors in this area reportedly support the establishment of an autonomous "Dega" state; however, the more orthodox majority of Protestant pastors in the Highlands appear not to support such political change. In February and March 2001, ethnic minority groups apparently encouraged or organized by the Dega Protestants held widespread demonstrations in the Central Highlands provinces of Gia Lai and Dak Lak in part to protest the loss of traditional homelands to recent migrants--who mostly were ethnic Vietnamese --and to protest abusive police treatment in the provinces. On March 10, 2001, at a Protestant church in Plei Lau village in Gia Lai province, hundreds of soldiers and police clashed with hundreds of ethnic minority Protestants. Two or three soldiers reportedly shot and killed a civilian who had threatened another soldier with a spear. According to unconfirmed reports, in the immediate aftermath of the February/March 2001 demonstrations, between 1 and 5 persons were killed as a result of police actions, and allegedly hundreds were injured in beatings by authorities. Hundreds of persons in Dak Lak and Gia Lai provinces, including Ama Ger and Ama Bion, two local leaders in Dak Lak, were detained in February and March 2001 and released days, weeks, or even months later. Local police reportedly beat many of the detainees severely while they were in custody. Local reports stated that approximately 100 persons continue to be held without trial and about 40 persons have "disappeared." Many persons reportedly went into hiding, and over 1000 fled to Cambodia. At least 26 persons were tried and sentenced to up to 12 years imprisonment by provincial courts. Although their adherence to Dega Protestantism complicates the issue, these persons were charged with "inciting social unrest" or other charges not related to any religious activities. Although the Government eventually allowed foreign observers into the area several times, each visit was monitored closely by government officials, police, or plainclothes security agents posing as "local newspaper reporters", making an independent assessment of the situation in the area impossible.
Protestants also reported that during the period covered by this report, authorities in the Central Highlands and in mountainous areas of neighboring coastal provinces detained, beat, and harassed numerous Protestant believers. In April 2002 officials reportedly cut off electricity to the homes of ethnic Ede villagers in Ea Trol village in coastal Phu Yen province after they refused to give up Christianity.
There also are a number of unconfirmed reports of groups of inebriated youths beating religious believers at the instigation of authorities. There were credible but unconfirmed reports from multiple sources that local police tortured Protestant detainees in some instances. In December 2001, police in Buon Cuor Knia village in Dak Lak province reportedly beat and shocked with electric wires 12 Christians who had attempted to flee across the border to Cambodia.
During the period covered by this report, the government's response to the ethnic unrest in the Central Highlands was directed at the organizers of the demonstrations; however, because some organizers also were Protestant leaders, some local authorities retaliated against Protestants in their areas. There were reports that from February 2001 through the end of the period covered by this report, groups of vigilantes abducted and beat Protestant worshippers. According to one report, the Protestant churches in Ban Don district in Dak Lak province were closed following the February 2001 demonstrations; authorities allegedly have prevented all assembly for worship since that time. More recent reports claimed that police intermittently broke up all Protestant gatherings, including weddings and funerals, in Krong Pak district, Dak Lak province.
The Government continued to isolate certain religious figures, in particular leaders of the UBCV, by restricting their movements and by pressuring the supporters and family members of other leaders. Since 1982 Thich Huyen Quang, the Supreme Patriarch of the UBCV, has lived in Quang Ngai province under conditions resembling house arrest. Thich Huyen Quang has confirmed that he must request permission before leaving the pagoda, which is surrounded on all sides by a pond and sits directly across the street from the local police station, whose officers monitor all visitors to and from the pagoda. He is not allowed to lead prayers or participate in worship as a monk, nor is he able to receive visits from sympathetic monks, several of whom attempt to visit each week. Other visitors who met with him occasionally were questioned by the police. Despite this, government officials in both Hanoi and HCMC told a visiting delegation from the U.S. that Thich Huyen Quang has been under no restrictions since 1997 and is free to travel to any pagoda affiliated with the CBS that is willing to receive him. Thich Huyen Quang has called for the Government to recognize and sanction the operations of the UBCV. In May 2002, he wrote an open letter to Buddhists encouraging them to prevent the suppression of independent Buddhism and to engage in a nonviolent struggle for religious freedom, human rights, and democracy. Government officials reportedly have proposed to move Thich Huyen Quang to Hanoi, or Quy Nhon Town, Binh Dinh province, where medical care for his chronic conditions would be better, but he has refused. Government officials have said that Thich Huyen Quang is free to leave the pagoda, but that he may not return to HCMC.
In February 2001, the UBCV's second-ranking leader, Thich Quang Do, visited Thich Huyen Quang. While he was returning to HCMC, police detained Thich Quang Do twice and questioned him for a total of 6 hours, at one point forcing him to undergo a strip-search. In June 2001, authorities enforced a 1998 5-year administrative surveillance order on Thich Quang Do by confining him to his living quarters under guard. The confinement was in response to his attempt to organize a group of monks and nuns to go to Quang Ngai province to take Thich Huyen Quang to HCMC. The confinement has been enforced strictly and Thich Quang Do has been unable to meet outsiders during the period covered by this report.
In February 2001, UBCV monks Thich Thai Hoa and Thich Chi Mau organized a "week of prayer" at Tu Hieu Pagoda in Hue City. Between 500 to 1,000 persons came to the pagoda during the week to offer their support. Local authorities reportedly ordered public high school and college students to attend classes throughout the week, even on Sunday--traditionally a non-school day--in an attempt to prevent their attending the event. Persons who visited the pagoda during the week reported that security forces detained and questioned them at local police stations.
In September 2001, UBCV lay follower Ho Tan Anh immolated himself to death in Da Nang. According to a letter left behind by Anh, he took this action to protest CPV policies towards the UBCV, (particularly a campaign directed at UBCV followers in Quang Nam province that began in June 2001).
Hoa Hao believers stated that a number of their leaders remained in detention at the end of the period covered by this report. On December 20, 2000, police intervened after 50 to 60 persons attacked a group of 10,000 Hoa Hao followers led by Le Quang Liem, Chairman and founder of the unrecognized Hoa Hao church that was conducting commemoration ceremonies at the Hoa Hao founder's ancestral home. According to several witnesses, police attacked Liem's group, beating them with batons. Police beat one follower, Truong Van Duc, so severely that he was hospitalized. Police arrested Duc and Ho Van Trong in connection with this incident. On May 20, 2001, they were tried, convicted, and received 12-year and 4-year prison sentences respectively.
On March 17, 2001, Le Quang Liem met with HHCBC Vice-Chairman Nguyen Van Dien and several other unofficial Hoa Hao supporters in a park in HCMC. Police detained Liem after he left the group. They released him, but on the following day placed him under administrative probation. Liem claims that he was beaten severely while in police custody. Police detained, then released the other members of the group. Nguyen Van Dien was returned to his home province of Dong Thap and placed under a 2-year administrative probation order. The others who had been detained were released. On March 19, 75-year-old unofficial Hoa Hao member Nguyen Thi Thu immolated herself to death at a village on the border between Dong Thap and Vinh Long provinces to support the Hoa Hao cause. It is unknown whether Thu was among those detained in HCMC on March 17, 2001.
Two Hoa Hao supporters, Truong Van Thuc and Nguyen Chau Lan, remained incarcerated at Z30A K16 prison at Xuan Loc in Dong Nai province after having been arrested on March 28, 2000, and sentenced to 3 years in prison. They were among 8 persons arrested for planning to organize a commemoration of the death of the Hoa Hao founder; the other 6 since have been released. On June 14, 2000, Vo Van Buu was arrested, along with his wife, Mai Thi Dung, after they met with Nguyen Van Dien. The couple was tried in September 2000 and convicted. Buu received a 30-month prison term; Dung was given an 18-month suspended sentence. There were unconfirmed reports that Buu remained incarcerated at the end of the period covered by this report.
On April 14, 1999, police detained Ha Hai, the third-ranking officer of the HHCBC, in An Giang province and subsequently placed him under house arrest. Hai violated a house arrest order in November 2000 by traveling to HCMC along with other HHCBC officers and supporters to help organize a demonstration planned to coincide with the visit to HCMC of then U.S. President Clinton. Police in HCMC arrested Hai; Hai was tried on January 16, 2001, and sentenced to 5 years in prison for abusing his "democratic rights." On November 28, 2000, a group of persons armed with clubs beat three of Hai's adult children who had accompanied his wife on a visit to the jail. The following day, several dozen persons protested the beatings at the police station. On December 7, approximately 1,000 persons approached the jail to demand Hai's release. When police dispersed them, a clash ensued, and in protest, Vo Hoang Van stabbed himself in the stomach and Mai Thi Dung slit her own throat. Both eventually recovered. Hai remained imprisoned at the end of the period covered by this report.
In May 1999, Hoa Hao follower Bui Van Hue was placed under a 2-year administrative probation order because, according to Hoa Hao sources, he was "very active in his religious activities." In April 2001, with 1 month remaining of the administrative probation order, he crossed the border to Cambodia. In August 2001, he reportedly decided to apply to UNHCR for refugee status, but when he camped out on the sidewalk in front of the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh, Cambodian police reportedly apprehended him and deported him back to Vietnam. In January 2002, a court in An Giang province sentenced him to 3 years imprisonment for violating the administrative probation order and for leaving the country illegally.
On November 1, 2001, police in Cho Moi district of An Giang province ordered Hoa Hao monk Vo Thanh Liem (Nam Liem) to remove the Hoa Hao flag and photograph of the Hoa Hao founder that he had displayed in his pagoda. When he refused, the police entered the pagoda; while the police were inside, Liem locked the door from the outside. After several attempts to break the door down, the police shot at the lock to get out. For the next several days, police remained at the pagoda. On November 6, 2001 Liem climbed up a tree with a knife and a container of gasoline, threatening to kill himself if the police did not go away. After 3 days in the tree and a self-inflicted knife wound to his leg, Liem came down. Despite the incident, Liem was not subjected to arrest or administrative detention.
Priests and lay brothers of the Catholic order Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix continue to face Government restrictions. Founded by Reverend Tran Dinh Thu in Bui Chu Diocese in 1953, the historically anticommunist order re-established its headquarters in Thu Duc District of HCMC in 1954. In 1988 police surrounded the 15-acre site and arrested all the priests and lay persons inside the compound. Father Thu was released in 1993 after serving nearly 5 years of a 20-year prison term. Most of the other Co-Redemptrix priests and lay brothers subsequently were released. However, Reverend Pham Minh Tri and lay person Nguyen Thien Phung remain incarcerated at the end of the period covered by this report. Father Tri reportedly is in poor health.
Three Cao Daiists--Ho Vu Khanh, Tran Van Nhi, and Ngo Van Thong--were arrested in 1977 and sentenced to death by a Tay Ninh provincial court. Their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment. They are believed to be in prison in Hanoi, but apparently because their close relatives have passed away, they have received no visitors for a number of years; it is unknown if they are still alive. Two senior Cao Dai clergy, Archbishop Thuong Nha Thanh and Archbishop Thai The Thanh, who have chosen not to participate in the government-sanctioned Cao Dai Management Committee, were prevented from meeting with U.S. diplomats in 2001, but did receive U.S. diplomats on unscheduled visits in February 2002.
In February 2001 at Tu Hieu Pagoda, on the day before the start of the "week of prayer," Catholic Father Nguyen Van Ly, Hoa Hao elder Le Quang Liem, and Buddhists monks Thich Thien Hanh and Chan Tri met for the purpose of forming an interreligious body independent of government authority. Later in the same month, police surrounded Father Ly's church and placed him under administrative probation. His detention was reported widely in the state-controlled press, which identified him as a "traitor" for submitting written testimony critical of the Government. On May 16, 2001, allegedly as many as 300 police surrounded his church and arrested him. On October 19, 2001, the Thua Thien Hue Provincial People's Court convicted Father Ly and sentenced him to a total of 15 years in prison, 2 years for disobeying the "administrative probation" he received in February, and 13 years for "damaging the Government's unity policy." The court also ordered 5 years of administrative probation, which is to confine him to his place of residence after his release. Father Ly had called not only for religious freedom, but also for an end to one-party rule.
It is impossible to determine the exact number of religious detainees and religious prisoners. There is little transparency in the justice system, and it is very difficult to obtain confirmation of when persons are detained, imprisoned, tried, or released. Moreover, persons sometimes are detained for questioning and subsequently held under conditions amounting to house arrest using administrative probation regulations without being charged or without their detention being publicized. Among those believed to be detained without having gone to trial are Hmong Protestant Vang Sua Giang in Ha Giang province and Dinh Troi, an ethnic Hre Protestant detained in Quang Ngai in 1999. Unconfirmed reports claim that there are many more Protestants detained in the Central Highlands. By the end of the period covered by this report, there reportedly were at least seven religious detainees who were held without formal arrest or charge; however, the number may be greater since persons sometimes are detained for questioning and held under administrative detention regulations without being charged or without their detention being publicized. The seven persons believed to be detained are ethnic minority Protestants: Hmong Protestants Sinh Phay Pao, Va Sinh Giay, Vang Sua Giang, and Phang A Dong in Ha Giang province; Dinh Troi, an ethnic Hre Protestant detained in Quang Ngai in 1999; and Ama Ger and Ama Bion detained in Dak Lak in February 2001. Unconfirmed reports suggest there may be other Protestants detained in the Central Highlands. Other religious leaders, most prominently Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang of the UBCV, were held under conditions that resemble administrative detention. Thich Huyen Quang was not allowed to leave the pagoda where he lives in Quang Ngai province without express police permission, and only then for medical appointments in the isolated town where he stays. In addition a number of UBCV Buddhists such as Thich Quang Do, Cao Dai dignitaries, and Catholic, Hoa Hao, and Protestant believers had their movements restricted or are watched and followed by police.
There were an estimated 40 religious prisoners and detainees, although the actual number may be higher. This figure is difficult to verify because of the secrecy surrounding the arrest, detention, and release process. Those persons believed to be imprisoned or detained at least in part for the peaceful expression of their religious faith as of June 2002 included: UBCV monk Thich Them Minh ; Catholic priests Pham Minh Tri and Nguyen Van Ly, and Catholic lay person Nguyen Thien Phung; Cao Dai believers Ho Vu Khanh, Tran Van Nhi, and Ngo Van Thong; Hoa Hao lay persons Bui Van Hue, Truong Van Thuc, Nguyen Chau Lan, Vo Van Buu, Ha Hai, Ho Van Trong, and Truong Van Duc. Hoa Hao leaders Le Quang Liem and Nguyen Van Dien remain under formal administrative detention (house arrest). Ethnic minority Tai Protestants Lo Van Hoa, and Lo Van Hen, and ethnic majority Kinh Protestant Nguyen Thi Thanh, were placed under administrative probation.
There were numerous reports during the period covered by this report that groups of vigilantes or "gangs of hoodlums" beat Protestant believers in the Central Highlands. On April 14 2002, a "gang" in Buon Eu Sup village, Dak Lak, reportedly beat Protestant believer Siu Kret. His father complained to local police about the incident. The police fined the gang members $33 (VND 500,000) and a pig, but the victim's father had to swear to police he was not a Protestant believer in order to collect the compensation. In April 2001, assailants severely beat two ethnic Vietnamese female primary school teachers on their return from a Protestant service in Phu Nhon district in Gia Lai Province. There were dozens of additional specific reports of similar beatings in the area.
Forced Religious Conversion
On multiple occasions, Hmong Protestant Christians in several northwestern villages reportedly were forced by local officials to recant their faith and to perform traditional Hmong religious rites such as drinking blood from sacrificed chickens mixed with rice wine. Local authorities reportedly have begun encouraging clan elders to pressure members of their extended families to cease practicing Christianity and to return to traditional practices. Following the ethnic unrest in the Central Highlands in February/March 2001, there also were numerous reports of local authorities forcing ethnic minority Protestants to renounce their faith. In the villages of Druh, B'Le, B'Gha, V'Sek, Koyua, Tung Thang, Tung Kinh, and Dung in Ea H'Leo district of Dak Lak province, ethnic minority commune and district officials, some of whom are ethnic minorities themselves, were assigned to force Protestant followers symbolically to abandon Protestantism by drinking alcohol mixed with animal blood in a ritual called "the ceremony of repentance." In the villages of Buon Sup, Buon Ea Rok, and Buon Koya in Ea Sup district, Dak Lak province, ethnic minority Protestants were forced to undergo the same ritual recantation of faith. There were sporadic unconfirmed reports of this occurring in other instances during the period covered by this report.
In other provinces, authorities have been encouraging "revival of traditional culture", which includes abandoning Christian beliefs. During the last week of May 2001, in Ninh Son district of Ninh Thuan province, officials reportedly gave a picture of Ho Chi Minh to each family in an ethnic Roglai community that had been selected to be upgraded to a "cultural village", with instructions to place the picture on an altar and burn incense in front of it. When four Christian families declined, they were threatened with banishment from the village.
There were no reports of forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
While the status of respect for religious freedom remained fundamentally unchanged during the period covered by this report, there were improvements in some areas. Some local Protestant churches in some parts of the country have been allowed to affiliate with the SECV. Leaders of non-recognized Protestant churches reported that they were negotiating with the Government for recognition and that police surveillance of their worship activities has declined or ended. Leaders of some Protestant house churches have been allowed to travel overseas. Catholic leaders report that they are able to assign priests more easily than in the past. Attendance at religious services continued to increase during the period covered by this report. The number of Buddhist monks and Catholic priests also continued to increase. Local governments in some parts of the country allowed religious organizations to engage in more charitable and social activities. In addition, there was continued gradual expansion of the parameters for individual believers adhering to one of the officially recognized religious bodies to practice their faiths. The Government reportedly allowed Protestants to begin using a number (possibly as many as several dozen) of long-closed churches in the southern and central parts of the country.
Several hundred to several thousand prisoners benefited from early releases during the period covered by this report, but it is unknown whether any of them were imprisoned for reasons related to expression of their religious faith. Hoa Hao believer Le Minh Triet (Tu Triet), was released in the beginning of May 2002 after serving his 12-year sentence. Some other persons, particularly Hmong Protestants, previously reported detained may have been released.
A leader of a large unrecognized Protestant fellowship has claimed that the Government is developing a new, perhaps more favorable policy on religion and that the Government intends to recognize at least 2 more Protestant bodies by 2004. In addition there has been no known police interference in Protestant worship services in the south since June 2001.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
In general there are amicable relations among the various religious communities, and there were no known instances of societal discrimination or violence based on religion during the period covered by this report. In HCMC, there were some informal ecumenical dialogs among leaders of disparate religious communities. Working level cooperation between the Catholic and Protestant churches occurs in many parts of the country. Various elements of the UBCV Buddhists, Catholics, Cao Dai, Protestant, and Hoa Hao communities appeared to network with each other; many of them reportedly formed bonds while serving prison terms at Xuan Loc.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the U.S. Consulate General in HCMC actively and regularly raised U.S. concerns about religious freedom with a wide variety of government officials, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security, and other government offices in Hanoi, HCMC, and the provincial capitals. Embassy and Consulate officials discussed religious freedom with Party officials and with leaders of mass organizations, such as the Women's Union and the Farmer's Union, several times during the period covered by this report. All public organizations fall under the Vietnam Fatherland Front, which is in turn under the control of the Communist Party. Embassy and consulate officials also met with some of the Religious Council officials, which also falls under the Vietnam Fatherland Front, in their capacity as religious leaders as well as with all of the major religious groups, recognized as well as unregistered.
The U.S. Ambassador and the Charge d'Affaires and other embassy officers have raised religious freedom issues with senior cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, senior Government and Communist Party advisors, the head of the Office of Religion, the Vice Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Public Security, and the chairpersons of Provincial People's Committees around the country, and other senior officials, particularly in the Central Highlands. The Consulate General and other consulate general officials also raised U.S. concerns about religious freedom with senior officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Public Security, with the Government's Office of Religion, and with the Provincial People's Committee Chairmen, Religious Affairs Committee, and Department of Trade officials. Embassy and consulate general officials maintained regular contact with the key government offices responsible for respect for human rights. Embassy officers informed government officials that progress on religious problems and human rights have an impact on the degree of full normalization of bilateral relations. The Embassy's public affairs officer distributed information about the U.S. concerns regarding religious freedom to Communist Party and government officials.
In their representations to the Government, the Ambassador and other Embassy officers urged recognition of a broad spectrum of religious groups, including members of the UBCV, the Protestant house churches, and dissenting Hoa Hao and Cao Dai groups. They also urged greater freedom for recognized religious groups. Embassy and consulate general officials also have focused on specific abuses and restrictions on religious freedom. The April 2001 recognition of the SECV followed direct advocacy by U.S. officials during the annual Human Rights Dialog and ongoing discussions involving the Ambassador, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and other U.S. officials. The Ambassador and other U.S. Mission officials in HCMC called on the Government to release Thich Quang Do from administrative probation and to allow Thich Huyen Quang to relocate to HCMC on humanitarian grounds. The Consulate General has made several oral and written representations. The Ambassador and other U.S. Mission officials expressed concern for Father Nguyen Van Ly during his detention. After Father Ly's sentencing, the Ambassador and other Embassy officials, noting the harshness of the sentence, called for his early release.
Representatives of the Embassy and the Consulate General met on several occasions with leaders of all the major religious communities, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, Muslims, Hindus and Baha'is. When traveling in the provinces, embassy and consulate general officers make a point of meeting with local Religious Affairs Committees, village elders, and local clergy and believers. In February 2001 and February 2002, a consulate general officer met with the government-sanctioned Hoa Hao Committee in An Giang province and maintained regular contact with Hoa Hao dissident Le Quang Liem and Hoa Hao elder Tran Huu Duyen. Mission officers met Cao Dai Archbishops affiliated with the pre-1975 Cao Dai leadership in February 2002. The Consulate General also maintained regular contact with UBCV monk Thich Quang Do until the re-imposition of his administrative probation order, and with other UBCV Buddhists and officially recognized Buddhists. Embassy and consulate general officers have maintained contact with leaders of the Central Buddhist Sangha. In May 2001, a consulate general officer met with the 95-year-old founder of the Co-Redemprix Order Father Tran Dinh Thu in HCMC. An embassy officer met with Thich Thai Hoa in Hue in September 2000. Embassy and consulate general officers met with the Catholic Archbishops of Hanoi, HCMC and Hue as well as other members of the Episcopal Conference. The Ambassador and other mission officers met with outspoken priest Chan Tin on numerous occasions during the period covered by this report. The Ambassador also met with the Catholic Archbishops of Hanoi and HCMC. The Ambassador and Consul General attended an Easter sunrise service in 2001 in the Central Highlands that was conducted in two ethnic minority languages and presided over by the Bishop of Kon Tum. Embassy and consulate general officers also met repeatedly with leaders of various Protestant house churches and with leaders of the Muslim community.
The U.S. Government commented publicly on the status of religious freedom in the country on several occasions. A delegation led by the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor held a Human Rights Dialog in August 2001 with the Government in which the status of Thich Quang Do, Thich Huyen Quang, the UBCV, Hmong Protestants, Protestants in the Central Highlands, Le Quang Liem, and the Catholic church were discussed.
Some religious sources have cited diplomatic intervention, primarily from the U.S., as a reason why the Government is seeking to legalize more religious groups and is allowing already legalized groups more freedom.