Both the Constitution and government decrees provide for freedom of worship; however, the Government continued to restrict those organized activities of religious groups that it declared to be at variance with state laws and policies. The Government generally allowed individual worship for those persons who participated privately in recognized religious bodies, including the Buddhist and Roman Catholic traditions. Participation in religious activities throughout the country continued to grow significantly; however, the Government maintained organizational control of the administration of recognized religions, and restrictions on the hierarchies and clergy of most religious groups remained in place. The Government controlled the administrative process leading to the creation of the official organizations for the major sanctioned religions, including the naming of their officers. In some cases, most notably the Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Buddhist religions, some former leaders of the nonofficial pre-1975 organizations and many believers reject the official organizations.
Overall, the status of respect for religious freedom did not change during the period covered by this report, but remains improved from conditions of the early 1990's. The Government used the lack of official recognition of groups to restrict them; certain groups of Buddhists, Protestants, and Hoa Hao lack legal recognition. Restrictions remained on unrecognized religions and dissident religious leaders and groups. These restrictions were particularly harsh in some border provinces, although religious practice and observance became easier for believers in other parts of the country. In April 2001, the Government officially recognized the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam and allowed the group to elect its own leaders democratically. However, in February 2001, in the Central Highlands provinces of Gia Lai and Dak Lak the government took action against Protestant ethnic minorities protesting in part 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, especially those suspected of advocating political autonomy for the region. The Government continued to permit only intermittent, supervised access to these provinces by diplomats, nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), and other foreigners, making it difficult to verify conditions there.
Police routinely questioned persons who advocate dissident religious views and arbitrarily detained persons based on their religious beliefs and practices. Groups of Protestant Christians who worshipped in house churches in ethnic minority areas were subjected to detention by local officials who 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." There are an estimated two dozen religious prisoners and detainees.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society led to some modest attempts at cooperation and dialog in the southern part of the country.
The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City 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, and provincial officials. Intervention by the U.S. Government during the period covered by this report resulted in improvements, such as the release of at least five religious prisoners and detainees, a more open dialog on Cao Dai, and the recognition of the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam.
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 Buddhist (approximately 50 percent of the population), Roman Catholic (approximately 8 percent), Cao Dai (1.5 percent), Hoa Hao (1.5 percent), Protestant (0.9 percent), and Muslim (0.1 percent) religious organizations. 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 Vietnam's "triple religion." Some estimates suggest that more than half the population is at least nominally Buddhist, visit pagodas on festival days, and have a world view that is shaped in part by Buddhism, although in reality these beliefs rely on a very expansive definition of the faith. One prominent Buddhist official has estimated that 30 percent of Buddhists are devout and practice their faith regularly. The Government's 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 occasionally have engaged in political and social issues, most notably actively campaigning for peace and against perceived injustices in the former Republic of Vietnam during the 1960's.
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 million Roman Catholics in the country (approximately 8 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 the military defeat in 1954. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics from the northern part of the country fled to Ho Chi Minh City (then called Saigon) and 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 Ho Chi Minh City 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.
In the past several years, diplomatic missions from the Vatican have resulted in the filling of bishoprics that had been vacant for a number of years. 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 Ho Chi Minh City; and a coadjutor bishop for Phan Thiet. However, the Government also reportedly refused to allow appointment of a bishop for the Hung Hoa Diocese, a coadjutor bishop for Hanoi, and a bishop for Haiphong. The head of the Vatican delegation stated that the atmosphere in the meetings was warmer than on any of his six earlier visits. Government officials stated that they "view the Catholic Church as a positive force."
There are at least 700,000 Protestants in the country (less than 1 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. Perhaps as many as 150,000 of the followers of house churches are Pentecostals, who celebrate "gifts of the spirit" through charismatic and ecstatic rites 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 grew 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 (an estimated 150,000 followers) in the northwest provinces and some 200,000 members of ethnic minority groups of the Central Highlands (Ede, Jarai, Bahnar, and Koho, among others). The house churches in ethnic minority areas have been growing rapidly, sparked in part by radio broadcasts in ethnic minority languages from the Philippines.
The Cao Dai religion was founded in 1926 in the south. The Office of Religious Affairs estimates 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 Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. There are separate groups within the Cao Dai religion, which 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. The Cao Dai were granted legal recognition only in 1997. Some adherents claim that it became more broadly based in 2000.
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 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; church-affiliated expatriate groups estimate that there may be from 2 million 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 defenders to surrender to Communist forces in the Mekong Delta in the summer of 1975.
Mosques serving the country's small Muslim population, estimated at 60,000 persons, operate in western An Giang province, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and provinces in the southern part of the country. The Muslim community is composed of ethnic Cham in the southern coastal provinces and western Mekong Delta. The Muslim community also includes some ethnic Vietnamese and migrants originally from Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. Most practice Sunni Islam.
There are a variety of smaller religious communities. Approximately 4,000 Hindus live in Ho Chi Minh City; some are ethnic Cham, but most are Indian or of mixed Indian-Vietnamese descent. Another estimated 4,000 ethnic Chams reportedly practice forms of Hinduism on the south central coast area.
There are estimated to be from several hundred to 2,000 members of the Baha'i Faith, largely concentrated in the south; 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 the Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi areas.
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 persons.
Foreign missionaries from various groups throughout the country engaged in developmental, humanitarian, educational, and relief efforts. None of these organizations legally are permitted to register or to proselytize.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
Both the Constitution and government decrees provide for freedom of worship; 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 in one of the major sanctioned religions, and participation in religious activities throughout the country continued to grow significantly. However, the Government uses regulations to control religious hierarchies and organized religious activities closely, in part because in the past various religious bodies engaged in political and military activities and in part because the Communist Party believes that organized religion may weaken its authority and its influence by serving as a political, social, and spiritual alternative to its own authority.
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 groups to register and uses this process to control and monitor religious organizations. 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 and the overall scope of its activities.
In February 2001, the Government organized a congress of Protestant delegates from the southern part of the country that led to the official recognition of the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam in April 2001. The Congress was notable for its election of officers, apparently free of government control. The newly recognized church is represented in all the southern provinces of the country; however, it is still unclear whether provincial officials will allow churches broad latitude to be represented by or to participate in the organization. The northern branch of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam, with some 15 officially approved churches in the northern part of the country, has been recognized for many years.
Officially recognized religious organizations are able to operate openly in most parts of the country, and followers of these religious bodies are able to worship without government harassment, except in some isolated provinces. 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 in some cases maintains a veto power. In general religious organizations are confined to dealing specifically with spiritual and with organizational matters. There has been a trend in the past several years to accord much greater latitude to followers of recognized religious organizations, and the majority of the country's religious followers have benefited from this development. The Government holds conferences to discuss and publicize its religion decrees.
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 operate religious schools; and to train, ordain, promote, or transfer clergy. They also must obtain government permission for large mass gatherings, as do nonreligous groups. Many of these restrictive powers lie principally with provincial or city people's committees, and local treatment of religious persons varied widely. Some provincial leaders, such as those in certain northwestern provinces, have claimed that there are no religious believers in their provinces since the religious believers there are not recognized officially.
Many Catholic churches in Ho Chi Minh City 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. 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 cases in recent history in which the courts acted to interpret laws so as to protect a person's right to religious freedom.
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 engage in humanitarian activities in many parts of the country.
The Office of Religious Affairs hosts periodic meetings to address religious matters according to government-approved agendas that bring together leaders of diverse religious traditions.
In practice there are no effective legal remedies for violations of religious freedom caused by the capricious actions of officials.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The Government continued to maintain broad legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom, although in many areas, Buddhists, Catholics, and Protestants reported an increase in religious activity and observance.
The Government restricts Protestant practice in the Central Highlands among the region's ethnic minorities, particularly the Mnong, Ede, Jarai, and Bahnar, and restricts Protestant congregations from cooperating on joint religious observances or other activities, although in some localities they were free to do so. There is some ecumenical networking among Protestants, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City. The Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECV), which comprises the network of Tin Lanh (Good News) churches, generally operated with greater freedom than did the so-called Protestant house churches. The roughly 300 Tin Lanh churches in the country are concentrated in the major cities, including Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hanoi, and in lowland areas. Until 2001 approximately 15 ECV churches in the northern provinces were the only officially recognized Protestant churches. One of the pastors of the main ECV church in Hanoi continued to be pressured by local authorities to resign from the church; government authorities proposed that he be replaced by a church official from Haiphong who was supported by local authorities. The pastor received a letter from local police stating that he had violated the law because of his past support of unsanctioned religious activities; however, the pastor and the congregation continued to resist successfully this 2-year-old effort to force him to resign.
In April 2001, the Government conferred legal recognition on the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam. This body represents Protestant churches throughout the southern part of the country, with representatives from every southern province, including the Central Highlands, where many "house churches" operate. However, it is still unclear whether provincial officials will allow churches broad latitude 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 Southern Evangelical Church and reportedly do not plan to seek affiliation with it. It is not known whether the Southern Evangelical Church is to be allowed, or would like, to have formal ties to the legally recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam, based in Hanoi.
The Government continued to ban and actively discourage participation in what it regards as illegal religious groups, including the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), Protestant house churches, and 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 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 government control.
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 faith were closed, thereby limiting public religious functions. Believers continued to practice their religion at home; however, the lack of access to public gathering places contributed to the Hoa Hao community's isolation and fragmentation. Nevertheless, in June 2000, an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 believers gathered for a religious festival in An Giang province.
The Government dissolved the Hoa Hao Buddhist church in 1975 and established a new official Hoa Hao body in 1999. The Government never dissolved the Cao Dai church but placed it under the control of the 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 1997 the Government reorganized the religion and set up a new "Management Council" of cooperative Cao Dai priests who drew up a new constitution. In 1981 the Government organized a new umbrella organization of Buddhist sects, the Central Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which effectively annulled the former Buddhist organization, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). The Government imposed, through indirect means, its own leadership on these new organizations. The new government-established religious bodies excluded those leaders who did not cooperate with the Government and persons whom they believed to be anti-Communist. The excluded leaders and supporters of the pre-1975 organizations, both in the country and abroad, have continued to challenge the legitimacy of the new administrative bodies. Other leaders and individuals refused to accept the leadership of the government-established religious bodies on principle.
In February 2000, a group of Hoa Hao believers tried to revive their pre-1975 Hoa Hao group and established an association independent of the government-sanctioned body, the Hoa Hao Central Buddhist Church (HHCBC). Several leaders of the Hoa Hao community, including several pre-1975 leaders, openly criticized the Government's 1999 recognition of an official Hoa Hao organization; they claimed that the official group is subservient to the Government, and demanded official recognition of their own leadership instead. They petitioned the Government for official recognition, but the Government ignored their petition. Some of these persons then protested. The group's highest officers either were in prison or under house arrest at the end of the period covered by this report.
Provincial officials in Ha Giang and Lai Chau provinces in the north attempted to pressure Hmong Christians to recant their faith. 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 Government requires all Buddhist monks to work under the officially recognized Buddhist organization, the Central Buddhist Church of Vietnam. The Government continued to oppose efforts by the non-government-sanctioned 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 monks in Hue also continued to complain that petitions to local authorities for permission to repair or renovate pagodas go unanswered.
In October 2000, police in the Mekong Delta prevented a group of UBCV monks from distributing flood relief supplies that were labeled "UBCV," although in November 2000, police allowed these monks to distribute unlabeled aid packets. Hoa Hao leaders reported that they also were allowed to distribute unlabeled relief supplies during flooding in the Mekong Delta in 2000.
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. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, faces many restrictions on the training and ordination of priests, nuns, and bishops, thus limiting pastoral ministry. 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. Likewise, the Government restricted the number of clergy that the Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, and Cao Dai Churches may train. Restrictions remained on the numbers of Buddhist monks and Catholic seminarians. Protestants and Cao Dai were not allowed to operate a seminary or to ordain new clergy. In addition worshipers in several Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, and Cao Dai centers of worship reported that they believed that undercover government observers attended worship services to monitor the activities of the congregation and the clergy.
The Cao Dai Management Council a government-controlled organization established in 1997, has the power to control all 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 committee as unfaithful to Cao Dai principles and traditions. When the committee rewrote the Cao Dai constitution in 1997, 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 Committee reached agreement with Cao Dai clergy that it 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.
The local Catholic Church hierarchy remained frustrated by government restrictions but has learned to accommodate itself to them for many years. 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 Ho Chi Minh City that were allowed to offer English-language masses that only expatriates could attend. The Church was able to engage in religious education including the education of children and performing charitable activities in some geographic areas.
Roman Catholic seminaries throughout the country have approximately 500 students enrolled. The Government limits the Church to operating six major seminaries and to recruitment of new seminarians only every 2 years. 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.
The Muslim Association of Vietnam was banned in 1975 but authorized again in 1992. It is the only registered Muslim organization. Association leaders say that they are able to practice their faith, including daily prayer, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and the Hajj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. From 30 to 40 Muslims journeyed to Mecca for the Hajj in 2001.
The constitutional right of freedom of belief and religion is interpreted and enforced unevenly. In some areas, such as parts of Ho Chi Minh City, local officials allow relatively wide latitude to believers; in others, such as isolated provinces of the northwest, Central Highlands, and central coast, religious believers are subject to significant harassment because of the lack of effective legal enforcement and the whim of local officials. Some religious groups that lacked registration were subjected to local government harassment. This was particularly true for Protestant and UBCV believers.
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. Proselytizing by citizens is restricted to regularly scheduled religious services in recognized places of worship. Immigrants and noncitizens must comply with the law when practicing their religions. In both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, there are Sunday morning Catholic masses conducted in English by local Vietnamese priests for the convenience of foreigners. In both cities, there also are well-publicized Protestant worship services for foreigners conducted by foreigners, some of whom are affiliated with religious NGO's, although the legal status of these services is unclear.
In April 1999, the Government issued a decree on religion that prescribes the rights and responsibilities of religious believers. The religion decree states that persons formerly detained or imprisoned must obtain special permission from the authorities before they may resume religious activities. Some persons previously detained were released and were active in their religious communities during the period covered by this report.
The decree also states 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 Ho Chi Minh City 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 said that approximately 30 percent of Buddhist properties confiscated in Ho Chi Minh City 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. Likewise the former Protestant seminary in Nha Trang is used for secular purposes. Most Cao Dai and Hoa Hao properties also have not been returned, according to church leaders.
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 attendance at Buddhist festivals and pilgrimage sites 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. On certain other traditional Hoa Hao commemorative days such as the anniversary of the death of the Hoa Hao founder, large gatherings are discouraged. In March 2000, dissident Hoa Hao leaders were prevented by arrest, police roadblock, and other forcible means from organizing their own independent commemorations. In March 2001, dissident leaders did not attempt to organize a large independent commemorations; however, several Hoa Hao followers were allowed to travel individually and in small groups to the traditional pilgrimage site to commemorate the anniversary peacefully.
The Government restricts persons who belong to dissident and unofficial religious groups from speaking publicly about their beliefs. It officially requires all religious publishing to be done by government-approved publishing houses. 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.
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 Therevada Buddhism. However, persons who hold dissident religious opinions generally 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. The Government allowed many bishops and priests to travel freely within their dioceses and allowed greater, but still restricted, freedom for travel outside these areas, particularly in many ethnic areas. Local officials reportedly discourage priests from entering Son La and Lai Chau provinces. Upon return from international travel, citizens, including clergy, officially are required to surrender their passports; this law is enforced unevenly.
The Government does not designate persons' religions on passports, although citizens' "family books," which are household identification documents, identify religious and ethnic affiliation. The Government allows, and in some cases encourages, links 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, and between illegal Protestant organizations such as the house churches and their foreign supporters. Contacts between Vatican authorities and the domestic Catholic Church are permitted, 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.
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. Avowed religious practice is a bar to membership in the Communist Party, although anecdotal reports indicate that a handful of the 2 million Communist Party members are religious believers. Increasingly, party and government officials discuss attending (or their family members attending) Christian church services or visiting pagodas.
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 Ho Chi Minh City universities. They are not allowed to wear religious dress when they teach or to identify themselves as clergy. Catholic Sunday religious education in Ho Chi Minh City increased. Khmer Theravada Buddhists and Cham Muslims regularly hold religious and language classes outside of normal classroom hours in their respective pagodas and mosques.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
A significant number of religious believers experience harassment because they operate without legal sanction. Local officials have persecuted "unregistered" Protestant believers in the northwestern provinces and the Central Highlands for a number of years, including through the demolition of churches and forced renunciations of faith. UBCV leaders continued to be harassed and their rights severely restricted by the Government. Officials also have detained or otherwise harassed some persons who have used purported spiritual activities or powers to cheat and deceive believers in areas with large numbers of ethnic minorities. Police authorities routinely question persons who hold dissident religious or political views. Credible reports suggest that police arbitrarily detained persons based on their religious beliefs and practice, particularly in mountainous ethnic minority areas.
The authorities in the northwest provinces severely restrict 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 secretive nature of the house churches, notably among ethnic minorities, has contributed to greater repression of these groups. Provincial officials in certain northwest provinces do not allow churches or pagodas to operate. They have arrested and imprisoned believers for practicing their faith nonviolently despite provisions of the Constitution that permit such activities.
On several occasions, small groups of Protestants belonging to house churches were subjected to arbitrary detention after local officials broke up unsanctioned religious meetings. There were reported instances, particularly in isolated provinces in the northwest and Central Highlands, 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 cattle and money from Protestants in those areas. It cannot be confirmed whether their religious affiliation or other factors were the cause of this reported extortion.
At the beginning of 1999, there were more than 25 Hmong Protestants imprisoned, primarily in Lai Chau province, for "teaching religion illegally" or "abusing the rights of a citizen to cause social unrest." Following protests by church leaders and international attention to the detentions, most of the detainees were released. Among those Hmong Protestant leaders still believed to be imprisoned are Hmong Protestant leaders Sinh Phay Pao, Va Sinh Giay, Vang Sua Giang, and Phang A Dong, who had been arrested in Ha Giang province late in 1999. Phang A Dong was charged with illegally traveling to China without a visa or passport.
The Government's treatment of Hmong Protestants is complicated by several factors, including their religious practices. Some Hmong who fought against the Government in the past live in sensitive regions that border China and Laos, which leads the Government to question their loyalty. Among the Hmong, there are two distinct religious groups. One group's members follow a traditional form of Christianity while the other group's beliefs contain elements such as a doomsday belief in the impending end of the world that lies outside more mainstream tenets. These beliefs have exacerbated the authorities' anxiety about the Hmong. The Government does not differentiate between the two groups in their general treatment of the Hmong.
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 detained 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 groups that advocate political autonomy for the indigenous peoples who live in the area, 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 early February 2001, ethnic minority groups 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--mostly ethnic Vietnamese--and abusive police treatment in the provinces. According to unconfirmed reports, in the immediate aftermath of the February demonstrations, between 1 and 5 persons were killed as a result of police actions, and allegedly hundreds were injured in beatings by authorities. Two local leaders of Protestant congregations in Dak Lak, Ama Ger and Ama Bion, were detained in February 2001 and reportedly continued to be held in Buon Ma Thuot at the end of the period covered by this report. Hundreds of persons reportedly went into hiding, and many fled to Cambodia. The Government refused to allow independent observers into the area to make an assessment of the events. Protestant sources also reported that between February 2001 and the end of the period covered by this report, authorities in the Central Highland provinces and in neighboring mountainous areas of the coastal provinces arrested and beat numerous Protestant believers in a widespread government crackdown during that period.
There were reports that between February and April 2001 groups of vigilantes abducted and beat Protestant worshippers in the Central Highlands' provinces. 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. For example, in March there were unconfirmed reports that authorities demolished churches in Plei Lau Village in Phu Nhon district.
The government response to 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 cracked down on Protestants in their areas. There are reports that from February 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 prevented all assembly for worship since that time.
In March 2001, teachers at a public primary school in the same 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. It is not known if they remained suspended at mid-year 2001. On March 10, 2001, soldiers dispersed approximately 200 persons who had gathered at a Protestant church in Plei Lau village in Phu Nhon district of Gia Lak province. A fight ensued in which one person using a spear reportedly was killed by gunfire when he attacked a soldier. Authorities later burned the church to the ground.
The Government continued to isolate certain political and religious dissidents, in particular leaders of the UBCV, by restricting their movements and by pressuring the supporters and family members of others. 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 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, sometimes several of whom attempt to visit each week. After meeting with him, visitors are occasionally questioned by police. Thich Huyen Quang has called for the Government to recognize and sanction the operations of the UBCV. In April 2000, Thich Huyen Quang wrote a letter to the Communist Party General Secretary, the President, and the Prime Minister, calling on them to proclaim April 30, the anniversary of the "reunification" of North and South Vietnam, "the Communist Party's National Day of Contrition." On July 5, police reportedly entered his pagoda and berated him about the letter. Government officials reportedly proposed last year to move Thich Huyen Quang to Hanoi, where medical care for his chronic conditions would be better, but he has refused.
In March 1999, Thich Huyen Quang was visited by senior UBCV leader Thich Quang Do for the first time in 18 years, but after 3 days of meetings both were held for questioning by police, and Thich Quang Do was escorted by police to his pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. In February 2001, Thich Quang Do again visited Thich Huyen Quang in Quang Ngai Province for 1 day. While he was returning to Ho Chi Minh City, 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 the 5-year administrative surveillance order that he was under following his release from prison in 1998 by confining him to his living quarters under guard. The confinement was in response to his attempt to organize a group on monks and nuns to go to Quang Ngai province to take Thich Huyen Quang to Ho Chi Minh City.
In February 2001, UBCV monks Thich Thai Hoa and Thich Chi Mau organized a "week of prayer" at Tu Hieu Pagoda in Hue City in the central part of the country. From 500 and 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.
Hoa Hao believers stated that a number of church leaders of various unrecognized Hoa Hao groups remained in detention at the end of the period covered by this report. On December 20, 2000, Le Quang Liem, Chairman and founder of the unrecognized Hoa Hao Central Buddhist Church (HHCBC), organized approximately 300 followers to participate in commemoration ceremonies at the Hoa Hao founder's ancestral home in An Giang Province. They joined approximately 10,000 other Hoa Hao followers, but Liem's group wore caps and carried small flags identifying them as HHCBC. When approximately 50 to 60 persons attacked Liem's group, police intervened; however, 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 HHCBC supporters in a park in Ho Chi Minh City. Police detained Liem after he left the group. They released him, but on the following day place him under formal house arrest under the 1997 Government Decree 31 CPP on Administrative Detention. Liem claims that he was severely beaten while in police custody. Police also detained the other members of the group who had remained in the park. Police claimed that several members of the group were preparing to immolate themselves. They later produced cans of gasoline and gasoline-soaked clothing as evidence. Nguyen Van Dien was returned to his home province of Dong Thap and placed under a 2-year house arrest there. The other members of the group who had been detained were released. Two days later, on March 19, 75-year-old HHCBC supporter Nguyen Thi Thu burned 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 Ho Chi Minh City on March 17.
On March 28, 2000, eight Hoa Hao supporters were arrested at Phu My (Hoa Hao) village. Three of them subsequently were released, but five were tried on September 26, 2000, convicted, and received the following sentences: Truong Van Thuc, 3 years; Nguyen Chau Lan, 3 years; Le Van Mong (Le Thien Hoa), 2 years; Tran Van Be Cao, 1 year; and Tran Nguyen Hon, 1 year. Thuc, Lan, and presumably, Mong are incarcerated at Z30A K16 prison at Xuan Loc in Dong Nai Province. Be Cao and Hon were scheduled to have been released at the end of March 2001, having served their terms. On June 14, 2000, Vo Van Buu, one of the three detained March 28 but released April 9, 2000, was rearrested, along with his wife, Mai Thi Dung, after they met with Nguyen Van Dien, the Vice Chairman of the non-government-sanctioned HHCBC. The couple was tried in September 2000 and convicted. Buu received a 30-month prison term; Dung was given an 18-month suspended sentence. Later in September, Dung slashed her stomach in protest. She was hospitalized, then released on the following day. Buu remained incarcerated at the end of the period covered by this report.
On April 14, 1999, police detained Ha Hai in An Giang Province and subsequently placed him under house arrest. In February 2000, Hai was named the third-ranking officer of the HHCBC. Hai broke his house arrest orders in November 2000 by traveling to Ho Chi Minh City along with other HHCBC officers and supporters to help organize a demonstration planned to coincide with the visit to Ho Chi Minh City of then- U.S. President Clinton. Police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested Hai (along with four others, including Nguyen Van Dien and Mai Thi Dung, who were later released from custody) and detained him in a jail in An Giang Province pending trial. On November 28, 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 was tried on January 16, 2001, was convicted, and received a 5-year prison sentence for abusing his "democratic rights." He remained imprisoned at the end of the period covered by this report.
Priests and lay brothers of a Vietnamese Catholic order, the 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 anti-Communist order reestablished its headquarters in Thu Duc District of Ho Chi Minh City 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.
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, following hearings by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (CIRF), police surrounded Father Ly's church and placed him under administrative detention. His detention was reported widely in the state-controlled press, which identified him as a "traitor" for submitting written testimony critical of the Government to the CIRF. On May 16, 2001, the police--allegedly as many as 300--surrounded his church, formally arrested him. He remained in detention without trial at the end of the period covered by this report; he was reportedly engaged in a hunger strike.
In October 1998, the authorities detained two Cao Daiists in Kien Giang province, Le Kim Bien and Pham Cong Hien, who sought to meet with United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance Abdelfattah Amor and sentenced them to 2 years' imprisonment on a conviction of "taking advantage of their democratic liberties to endanger the welfare of the State and society." Bien was released on April 30, 2000, as part of a national amnesty. Hien was released in October 2000, after completing his sentence. Three Cao Daiists, Lam Thai The (Lam The Thanh), Van Hoa Vui, and Do Hoang Giam were released from prison in the April 30, 2000 amnesty. 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, reportedly were free to worship but were not allowed to meet with foreigners.
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 imprisoned persons for practicing religion illegally. They use 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 were 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 detention 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 detention, some local authorities held persons under conditions resembling house arrest. The authorities use administrative detention as a means of controlling persons whom they believe hold dissident opinions.
It is difficult 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. 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, are held under conditions that resemble administrative detention. Thich Huyen Quang is 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 have their movements restricted or are watched and followed by police.
There are an estimated 14 religious prisoners, although the actual number may be higher. This figure is difficult to verify because of the secrecy surrounding the arrest, detention, and release process. In a positive development, many of the ethnic Hmong Protestants who were imprisoned in Lai Chau province at the beginning of 1999 are believed to have been released by the end of the period covered by this report. Those persons believed to be religious prisoners as of June include: UBCV monks Thich Them Minh and Thich Hue Dang; Catholic priests Pham Minh Tri and Nguyen Van Ly, and Catholic lay person Nguyen Thien Phung; Hoa Hao lay persons Truong Van Thuc, Nguyen Chau Lan, Le Van Mong, Vo Van Buu, Ha Hai, Le Van Son, Ho Van Trong, Truong Van Duc, and Le Minh Triet (Tu Triet). (Le Minh Triet, also known as Tu Triet, is a Hoa Hao leader arrested in 1990 for sending information about Vietnam to Radio Free Asia and other international media; he is serving a 12-year sentence in Xuan Loc in Dong Nai Province.) In addition Hoa Hao leaders Le Quang Liem and Nguyen Van Dien remain under formal administrative detention (house arrest).
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.
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 Government's 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, such as the recognition of the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam in April 2001, the compromise leading to the promotions of several hundred Cao Dai clergy, and the release of some persons detained or arrested because of their religious beliefs. Local governments in some parts of the country relaxed the restrictions on religious organizations from engaging in charitable and social activities. In addition there was continued gradual expansion of the parameters for individual believers of officially recognized churches to practice their faiths. In some provinces in which harassment of religious believers has been very severe, local officials have lost their positions because of religious restrictions. Many believers who worship in officially recognized churches are able to practice their faith publicly without interference from government officials. This continued a trend of the past several years toward less official interference in the lives of citizens, such as the diminution of the block warden system, which is now much less pervasive and intrusive in monitoring persons. On religious celebration days, churches, pagodas, and temples are filled by worshipers. Most of the country's religious believers benefit from this development.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
In general there are amicable relations among the various religious communities, and there were no instances of societal discrimination or violence based on religion during the period covered by this report. In Ho Chi Minh City, there were nascent efforts at informal ecumenical dialog by leaders of disparate religious communities. Various dissident elements of the UBCV Buddhists, Catholics, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao appear to be successful in networking with each other; many of them formed bonds while serving prison terms at Xuan Loc.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City 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 Religion, the Ministry of Public Security, and other government offices in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and provincial capitals. Embassy and Consulate officials also meet and talk with leaders of all of the major religious groups, recognized as well as unregistered.
The U.S. Ambassador raised religious freedom problems with senior cabinet ministers including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, senior Government and Communist Party advisors, the head of the Government's Office of Religion, Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Public Security, and the chairpersons of Provincial People's Committees around the country, among others. Other Embassy and Consulate General officials also raised U.S. concerns on religious freedom with senior officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Public Security and with provincial 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 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. In general representations by Embassy and Consulate General officials focused on specific abuses and restrictions on religious freedom. On several occasions the Embassy's and the Consulate General's interventions on problems involving religious freedom have resulted in direct improvements, such as the release of some religious prisoners. The recognition of the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam followed direct advocacy by U.S. officials during the annual Human Rights Dialog with Vietnam 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 regularly and periodically meet with senior officials of the Government Committee on Religion in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, raising the full range of our concerns about religious freedom for all communities in the country.
Representatives of the Embassy and Consulate General met on several occasions with leaders of all the major religious communities, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and Muslims. Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, maintain a regular dialog with foreign NGO's. In February 2001, 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 with Hoa Hao elder Tran Huu Duyen. The Consulate General also maintained regular contact with UBCV monk Thich Quang Do and other UBCV Buddhists and officially recognized Buddhists. In May 2001, a Consulate General officer met with the 95-year-old founder of the Co-Redemprix Order Father Tran Dinh Thu in Ho Chi Minh City. An Embassy officer met with Thich Thai Hoa in Hue in September. Embassy and Consulate General officers met with the Catholic Archbishops of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Hue as well as other members of the Episcopal Conference and outspoken priest Chan Tin. Embassy and Consulate General officers also met repeatedly with leaders of Protestant "tin lanh" and house churches, and Consulate General officers met with leaders of the Cao Dai and Muslim communities.
The U.S. Government commented publicly on the status of religious freedom in the country on several occasions. In addition the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom held hearings on the status of religious freedom in Vietnam on February 13, 2001. The Commission weighed testimony from both Father Nguyen Van Ly and Buddhist Thich Thai Hoa, as well as from a number of persons residing abroad and in April published a report of its findings based on that information.