There were reports of religious individuals and congregants being beaten, detained, arrested, imprisoned, monitored, and harassed.
Authorities have denied religious prisoners and detainees the right to worship, and, in principle, prisoners do not have the right to practice their religious beliefs or rites in communal prison spaces. There are, however, confirmed reports of some prisoners being allowed to read the Bible and practice their beliefs while incarcerated. Notably, Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly, incarcerated because of his political activism, has been able to celebrate Mass and distribute communion to fellow prisoners.
The constitutional right to religious belief and practice continued to be subject to uneven interpretation and protection. Government practices and bureaucratic impediments restricted religious freedom. Unregistered and unrecognized religious groups were often subject to harassment, as well as coercive and punitive actions by authorities. In some parts of the country, local authorities tacitly approved the activities of unregistered groups and did not interfere with them. In other areas local officials restricted the same activities. Some unregistered groups moved towards national registration and recognition, but others chose not to seek registration, stating registration would give the government undue influence or control over their religious practices.
On June 25, members of the unsanctioned Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist Church stated that police had blocked followers of Vo Van Thanh Liem from worshipping at his pagoda in An Giang province. According to these reports, police beat, threw chairs at, and sprayed sewage on worshipers who were trying to attend the 74th anniversary of the founding of Hoa Hao.
On July 31, a group of Catholics stated police beat them and removed them from the area in front of a church in Ho Chi Minh City as they were praying. The group had travelled to the church from other southern provinces to pray after their land and property had been seized by local authorities. Several followers reportedly required hospitalization due to the beatings.
Local and national government regulators of religion continued to call for H’mong people in northern mountainous provinces, including Tuyen Quang, Cao Bang, Bac Can, and Thai Nguyen provinces, to disavow the small but growing Duong Van Minh religious group and dismantle any nha don, a public building used for funerals and other rites. National authorities issued directives to local authorities to put an end to the Duong Van Minh organization. Local authorities have established steering committees to implement the directives. State-run media said the authorities had been persuading the local people to dismantle any nha don while a number of blogs and news websites reported that local authorities had sent policemen to destroy a nha don, and intimidate and beat the followers. In October many H’mong people demonstrated in front of the prime minister’s office, and law enforcement authorities temporarily removed and detained several demonstrators.
Individuals and churches affiliated with Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, including the Vietnam People’s Christian Evangelical Fellowship Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and Vietnam, reported police had prevented them from holding services. The government claimed Chinh had used his position to conduct political activities. Police arrested Chinh on April 28, 2011, for sharing his thoughts with foreign media outlets on political and religious issues and criticizing the government and communism. In July 2012, an appeals court upheld Chinh’s 11-year sentence, announced in March 2012. Chinh’s wife, Tran Thi Hong, and other family members report continued police harassment following his arrest and conviction. After Chinh’s arrest, police followed and monitored Hong and family members. On April 12, Hong stated police had stopped her while she was on her way to visit Chinh in prison, and then beat her and searched her belongings. She also said police had locked her and the children in their house on September 25.
Authorities in An Giang and Dong Thap provinces and Can Tho City continued to harass and abuse followers of the unsanctioned Traditional Hoa Hao Buddhist Church and Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist Church. In September a court tried and sentenced Hoa Hao follower Bui Van Tham to two years and six months in prison for public dissent from the government and for organizing unsanctioned religious gatherings. Police had arrested Tham without a warrant in July 2012. In October 2012, police had arrested his father, Bui Van Trung, on the same charge, and a court sentenced him to four years in prison in January.
On May 20, police arrested Thach Thuol and Lieu Ny, Khmer Krom Buddhist monks of a Theravada pagoda in Soc Trang province, along with Thach Phum Rich and Thach Tha, as they attempted to cross into Cambodia. The four had criticized the Vietnamese government’s treatment of the Venerable Ly Chanh Da. On September 27, a court sentenced Thach Thuol to six years and Lieu Ny to four years in prison for “fleeing abroad to act against the people’s administration.”
In May 2010, there were reports of beatings and intimidation of individuals detained after they protested the closing of a cemetery in Con Dau parish. Although there were no reports of detention or harsh treatment of Con Dau parishioners in the three years since 2010, during the year there were reports of coercion and intimidation of the Con Dau families who were still refusing to move from the parish under a new resettlement project. Government officials in Danang City estimated the number of resisting families at nearly 30, while other sources cited 100 families.
On May 28, the Gia Lai provincial court tried eight defendants who were members of the Christian Ha Mon religious group, which the state had labeled an “evil cult” for “sabotaging the policy on solidarity.” The provincial court sentenced the defendants to three to 11 years in prison. According to the indictment, one of the defendants said the Virgin Mary had appeared in 2002 in Ha Mon, a village in the Central Highlands where the government planned to build a hydroelectric plant. She called for local people to gather and pray at Ha Mon in order to halt Kon Tum province’s plans to relocate local people and to reclaim the land from the hydroelectric project.
On April 15, Buddhists reported local authorities in Binh Phuoc Province had smashed Buddha statues located at a relics site. A leader of the provincial CRA stated the Binh Phuoc People’s Committee had ordered the removal of Buddhist insignia because the government classified the mountain as a national cultural relic site and an eco-tourism site.
Plainclothes police frequently interrupted Falun Gong religious activity in Ho Chi Minh City parks.
On July 3, Cao Dai followers reported plainclothes police had raided a Cao Dai temple in Tien Giang province, attacked followers, and detained several members of the group. The followers said police had ordered them to transfer control of the facility to the state-run Cao Dai Executive Board.
In 2012, Superior Buddhist monk Thich Khong Tanh organized a meeting at the unsanctioned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) in Ho Chi Minh’s Lien Tri Pagoda. UBCV followers reported security forces had surrounded the pagoda and prevented a number of religious dignitaries, former prisoners of conscience, and wounded soldiers of the former Republic of Vietnam from participating in the ceremonies. Tanh said police blocked and arrested several people, preventing them from attending the meeting at Lien Tri Pagoda. In 2013, the pagoda was able to organize a charity event unhindered, but under police surveillance.
On July 2, airport police in Hanoi stopped Nguyen Hoang Duc, a Catholic literary critic, from attending the concluding meeting in Rome for the beatification of the late Cardinal Francois-Xavier Van Thuan. In 2012, international media reported Vietnam had revoked visas for a Vatican delegation planning to speak to people who had known the cardinal. Eglises d’Asie (Churches of Asia), the Foreign Missions Society of Paris information agency, stated the beatification plans had angered Hanoi. Thuan, the nephew of Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam’s anti-communist first president, was forced into exile in Rome after he was freed from a Vietnamese detention camp in 1989.
On May 12, airport police in Ho Chi Minh City revoked the passport of Pham Dinh Nhan, head pastor of the unsanctioned United Gospel Outreach Church, and prevented him from leaving the country to attend a religious conference abroad. Police did not specify reasons for the revocation.
Religious believers, particularly members of organizations that had not applied for or been granted legal sanction, continued to report intimidation by local security officials about attending religious services. Harassment occurred in some cases when an organization attempted to upgrade its status by registering or applying for official recognition. In a number of instances, local officials forced church gatherings to disperse, advised or required groups to limit important celebrations in scope or content, closed unregistered house churches, and pressured individuals to renounce their religious beliefs.
On March 19, members of a Protestant denomination in Danang reported police had dispersed a “meeting point” (or house church) of nearly 30 deaf followers and escorted them to a police station for questioning. The members, affiliated with the unsanctioned Christian Mission Church, had reported no problems with authorities until they tried to register their meeting point.
There were also reports of restrictions on religious celebrations or expression. While most Christian groups, especially those located in the larger cities, reported authorities had allowed them to observe Christmas, some unsanctioned groups in Binh Phuoc, Khanh Hoa, Bac Ninh, and Danang reported interference by authorities. The recognized Presbyterian Church of Vietnam in Duc Co District, Gia Lai Province, reported authorities had dispersed a small group on December 23. Also in Gia Lai province, Redemptorist followers reported authorities had prevented them from distributing blankets to the poor on Christmas Eve.
Leaders from the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) reported authorities in Binh Phuoc province had tried to close down hundreds of house churches affiliated with their organization because they were not registered. The SECV also reported local authorities had revoked the registration of a house church in Binh Phuoc without any justification, and then disrupted the church’s activities and harassed its head preacher.
In January the CRA agreed in principle to the unification of the SECV and the Evangelical Church of Vietnam North (ECVN) but rejected their application to organize a joint congress to unify the two churches in May. The request for unification was first made in late 2010. In October the ECVN reached an agreement on the process of unification with the SECV immediately after its 34thGeneral Assembly in Hanoi. A similar agreement was reached by the SECV at its assembly in Ho Chi Minh City on November 11-15. Leaders of the two churches said they expect to hold their first nationwide joint assembly in early 2014.
During major Buddhist festivals such as Vesak, the Buddha’s birthday, and Vu Lan, authorities banned UBCV pagodas from organizing services for the public in Ho Chi Minh City, Danang City, and Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Nam, Phu Yen, and Binh Thuan provinces.
Authorities allowed house churches affiliated with the Assemblies of God (AOG) in District 3 and Can Gio of Ho Chi Minh City to operate and granted registration to the AOG house church in Can Gio. The AOG, however, continued to face difficulty registering churches in northern provinces including Bac Giang, Thai Nguyen, and Son La. Some followers reported authorities had dispersed their gatherings, although no one was detained. Although the AOG received a national registration certificate in 2010, and held a required national conference, the government had not yet granted national recognition because it did not accept the AOG’s charter and management structure.
Adherence to a religious group generally did not seriously disadvantage individuals in nongovernmental civil, economic, and secular life, although unofficial policies of the CPV and the military often prevented advancement by religious adherents in the government and military. Practitioners of various religions served in local and provincial government positions and were represented in the National Assembly. Some religious organizations, such as the VBS, as well as clergy and religious followers, were members of the VFF. High-ranking government officials sent greetings and visited churches during Christmas and Easter and attended Vesak activities.
Most religious groups reported their ability to meet openly for religious worship had improved. The government, however, required the registration of all activities by religious groups and used this requirement to restrict and discourage participation in certain unrecognized religious groups, including the UBCV and some Protestant and Hoa Hao groups.
Religious activities were often subject to the discretion of local officials. In some cases local officials reportedly told religious leaders national laws did not apply to their jurisdictions. Recognized and unrecognized Protestant groups were sometimes able to overcome local harassment or to overturn negative local decisions after they appealed to higher-level authorities.
The government stated it continued to monitor the activities of certain religious groups because of their political activism. The government invoked national security and solidarity provisions in the constitution to override laws and regulations providing for religious freedom. This included impeding some religious gatherings and blocking attempts by religious groups to proselytize to certain ethnic groups in border regions deemed to be sensitive, as well as in the Central Highlands.
No new religious organizations received national recognition during the year.
Several hundred ECVN congregations continued to await action on their applications to register local meeting places. As reasons for the delays, authorities cited bureaucratic impediments such as failing to complete forms correctly or providing incomplete information. Local authorities also cited vague security concerns, stating their political authority could be threatened or confrontations could occur between traditional believers and recently converted Christians.
In the Central Highlands, authorities granted registration certificates to dozens of SECV congregations, while the government granted registration to 10 in other southern provinces. More than 10 churches were built in provinces, including Gia Lai, Dak Nong, Quang Nam, and Dong Thap.
The CRA reported 115 new church congregation registrations – mostly in the Central and Northwest Highlands – compared to 20 in 2012, five in 2011, and 30 in 2010. Many of the newly-registered church congregations were part of either the ECVN or SECV.
The government continued to restrict the movement of UBCV leaders, although they were able to receive visits from foreign diplomats, visit other UBCV members, and maintain contact with associates overseas; however, government authorities closely monitored these activities. Provincial UBCV leaders throughout the southern region reported routine surveillance by local authorities. UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Quang Do stated authorities prevented followers from visiting him or regularly questioned them after any such visit, although he could meet diplomats within his pagoda. Authorities continued to ban the entry of Buddhist followers into UBCV pagodas. Authorities also banned some charitable activities by the UBCV Lien Tri Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Hoa Hao Administrative Council was the officially recognized Hoa Hao body; however, several leaders of the Hoa Hao community openly criticized the council as being overly subservient to the government. Hoa Hao followers in the Hue Vien Tu Pagoda in An Giang Province said the local state-run Hoa Hao Buddhist council had tried to shut down the pagoda because its followers opposed the control of the council. They further stated the council had requested the removal of all Buddhist statues in the pagoda and supported its closure for several months. When the followers protested by attempting to enter the pagoda, local authorities and police reportedly summoned them for questioning, although there were no reports of arrests. According to Hoa Hao and governmental reports, the pagoda was open, and local authorities and the former executive board were discussing plans for new board elections.
The government continued to say some Montagnards, an ethnic minority in the Central Highlands, were operating Protestant organizations which advocated separatism for ethnic minorities. The SECV and house churches in the provinces of Dak Lak, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Binh Phuoc, Phu Yen, and Dak Nong continued to experience government scrutiny because of perceived association with separatist groups overseas. Followers of the unsanctioned Church of Christ reported local authorities in the Central Highlands provinces had harassed and persecuted them. They said police had pressured the followers to abandon the church, and that police stated the church was connected with FULRO (Front Unifié pour la Libération des Races Opprimées), which the government considers a minority separatist organization.
The Religious Publishing House did not act on a longstanding request by the SECV and the ECVN to allow printing of the Bible in the modern form of the H’mong language.
In March the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a circular, followed by a decision in October, clarifying procedures and proceedings for Decree 92. Many local committees on religious affairs also organized workshops for their officials and religious representatives to support effective implementation of the decree throughout the year.
The CRA organized a series of conferences, in conjunction with local administrations and religious communities, to review implementation of the religious ordinance over the previous eight years and to help revise the ordinance. The CRA acknowledged what it considered to be limitations in the existing ordinance, such as weak regulation of religious academies once they were established.
As in previous years, the CRA, in cooperation with the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), held three training courses with local and provincial-level officials and local church leaders in Cao Bang, Lai Chau, and Dien Bien provinces in the summer and fall. The training provided instruction in religious freedom and protection for religious believers under Vietnamese law, with a high rate of participation by local officials. More local officials participated in the training sessions than in previous years.
The government continued the positive trend of meeting with local and international religious leaders from a variety of denominations to discuss registration and recognition procedures.
Students continued to participate in training sessions on fundamental Buddhist philosophy organized at pagodas nationwide during summer holidays.