The constitutional right to freedom of belief and religion continued to be subject to uneven interpretation and protection. Government practices and bureaucratic impediments restricted religious freedom.
There were reports of abuses of religious freedom in the country, including religious prisoners and detainees and reports of individuals and congregants being monitored and harassed. Reports of abuses of religious freedom remained at a consistent level compared with the previous year.
In March authorities of An Giang, Dong Thap, Vinh Long, and Can Tho ordered surveillance of unsanctioned Hoa Hao monks to prevent followers from commemorating the March 29 disappearance of the Hoa Hao founder. Police blocked roads and harassed or threatened followers. Police beat one follower severely.
Protestant Khmers reported harassment, intimidation, and, in some cases, property damage and beatings by Khmer Krom Buddhists in certain districts of Tra Vinh Province. They reported that authorities did little to prevent the incidents and, in some cases, may have participated in or instigated the actions.
Two lay preachers, Ksor Y Du and Kpa Y Ko, remained in prison as a result of convictions and sentences for attempting to organize demonstrations, causing political and security disorder, and dividing national solidarity.
In November Pastor Do Van Tinh reported that family members and neighbors opposed to the Agape Baptist church attacked Pastor Nguyen Danh Chau and parishioners. Pastor Tinh reported that security forces did not take part in the beating but were slow to react and only came to the assistance of churchgoers after the crowd continued to grow.
In October one Falun Gong adherent reported that although a group of Falun Gong practitioners had held weekly Falun Gong exercises in a Ho Chi Minh City park since 2009, police arrested seven of 25 Falun Gong practitioners in Ho Chi Minh City and detained them for eight hours. Two of the seven detainees did not have identification documents with them, and police transferred them to a Social Protection Center. They were released within 24 hours.
In June Tran Van Nhon from Dong Thap Province reported that commune authorities illegally confiscated 700 to 800 square meters (7,500 -8,000 sq feet) of this commune’s original 1,000 square meters (10,700 sq feet) of land without compensation. Nhon reported that he used the land to hold Hoa Hao worship services. Tong Thiet Linh, also from Dong Thap Province, reported that he stopped holding Hoa Hao worship services in his home after local police issued a citation and threatened to arrest Linh if he did not stop holding services as an unregistered church.
In May, 5,000 members of the ethnic H’mong community in Muong Nhe District in Dien Bien Province gathered as part of a millennium movement. Security personnel dispersed the crowd and arrested 150 individuals. There were reports that up to three children became ill and died due to the difficult weather conditions in a makeshift camp built by ethnic H’mong.
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, were prevented at times from holding services due to Chinh’s strong denunciations of the government and communism. The government continued to claim that Chinh had used his position to conduct political activities. Chinh was arrested on April 28 for “sabotaging the great national unity policy” for sharing his thoughts with foreign media outlets on political and religious issues and criticizing the government and communism. At year’s end, he remained in detention and his family has not been allowed to visit him.
In November 2010 authorities arrested Vu Duc Trung and Le Van Thanh, affiliated with the Falun Gong movement, in Hanoi for illegally broadcasting spiritual as well as political messages into China. In February the Hanoi People’s court convicted Trung and Thanh for “illegally broadcasting information and operating information networks without a license” and sentenced them to three and two years’ imprisonment, respectively.
In addition to reports of physical abuse and of religious prisoners and detainees, there were reports of other abuses of religious freedom during the year.
On July 20, local police dismantled a Cao Dai temple in Phan Rang city, Ninh Thuan Province. Prior to the temple being demolished, local officials demanded that the land be handed over to them. When Cao Dai adherents protested, local officials forcibly removed the Cao Dai followers, razed the temple, and confiscated the land without compensation. There were no new developments by year’s end.
On July 10, Redemptorist Provincial Superior Pham Trung Thanh was prevented from leaving the country for a religious conference in Singapore. On July 12, Father Dinh Huu Thoai, chief of office of the Redemptorist Church of Vietnam, was stopped at a border crossing while on the way to Cambodia.
In July commune officials threatened to withhold financial support to help poor households if certain members of the Church of Pha Khau village, Phinh Giang commune in Dien Bien, did not stop attending services. Commune officials regularly followed believers and instructed them not to follow “organized religion” and instead return to ancestor worship, according to parishioners.
Some religious believers continued to report being intimidated by local security officials not to attend religious services, particularly those whose organizations had not applied for or been granted legal sanction. Harassment occurred in some cases when an organization attempted to upgrade its status, i.e., to move from an unregistered status to registered, or from registered to recognized. 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.
There were also reports of restrictions on religious freedom. Several unrecognized Protestant denominations were prohibited from holding large-scale Christmas services in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, and Thanh Hoa.
At year’s end, the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) and other denominations continued to seek restitution of properties seized by the government.
The United Baptist Church reported in December that authorities in Da Nang Province who were opposed to unregistered churches pressured it to join the registered church.
The SECV reported that the CRA issued an edict in November denying its request to revert to its pre-1975 organizational structure with districts underneath the central church’s control. The CRA stated that three-tiered leadership structures are not permitted under the Ordinance on Religion and Belief. The SECV said that this edict complicates its ability to manage its internal affairs. Early in the year, SECV and ECVN jointly submitted a common charter for a unified Protestant church which would establish a provincial-level management institution. The government’s Committee for Religious Affairs did not support the decision and both churches continued to operate as separate entities.
In September the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) reported that officials invited monks and nuns to working sessions with police officials a day before Vu Lan, an important religious holiday, and recorded the names of followers who visited. On the holiday, local authorities dispersed crowds.
In May, the Danang People’s Committee advised the unsanctioned Buddhist church to refrain from hanging religious banners or images in public and from reading messages from one of their monks on Vesak, the commemoration of the Buddha’s birthday.
In Soc Trang and the Go Vap district of Ho Chi Minh City, Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) congregations that applied for local registration were physically harassed. The local authorities convened neighborhood meetings to collect opinions from residents about the application. Residents voted “100 percent” against the JW registration, and in May officials denied the JW application on that basis, citing “possible civil disorder.”
The Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship (VEF) tried to organize an event for well-known international Pastor Luis Palau on April 15-16 in Hanoi, but government officials insisted the event needed to be organized by a government sanctioned church. Without enough time to make the proper arrangements, the event in Hanoi was cancelled.
In January authorities asked followers of the unsanctioned Buddhist Church of Vietnam to cancel or limit the opening ceremony of a yearly catechism retreat. The day after the ceremony, police summoned followers to working sessions to discuss the content of the retreat.
In January police interrupted a gathering of 50 Assemblies of God followers, 30 of whom were ethnic Khmer, issued a citation for illegally gathering and preaching, and confiscated prayer books and Bibles. The congregation was registered locally but encountered problems when attempting to change its meeting place. The congregation sent prior notice to authorities of the proposed change but did not receive an answer. After the citation, authorities declared the group’s registration incomplete and asked for a list of all attendees (which was illegal, according to the Ordinance on Religion). Some authorities warned Khmer members that they could lose social benefits by continued adherence to the church.
Several small house churches affiliated with the Inter-Evangelistic Movement (IEM) continued to report difficulties holding services in several locations in Dien Bien Province. In past years police actively dispersed meetings of worshippers, local authorities refused to register IEM meeting points, and authorities pressured followers to abandon their religion.
Local officials from villages in the Northwestern provinces attempted to convince or force H’mong Protestants to recant their faith. Local authorities encouraged clan elders to pressure members of their extended families to cease practicing Christianity and to return to traditional practices.
Implementation of the legal framework on religion at lower levels of the government continued to be mixed. During the year, national and provincial authorities held a number of training courses for lower-level officials about the new laws to assure their understanding and compliance with the Ordinance on Religion and Belief.
Adherence to a religious group generally did not seriously disadvantage individuals in nongovernment civil, economic, and secular life, although unofficial policies of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and military prevented advancement by religious adherents. Practitioners of various religious groups served in local and provincial government positions and were represented in the National Assembly. Some religious organizations, such as the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS), as well as clergy and religious followers, were members of the CPV-affiliated mass political and social organization, the Vietnam Fatherland Front. High-ranking government officials sent greetings and visited churches during Christmas and Easter as well as attended Vesak day (a commemoration of the birth of Buddha) activities.
Most religious groups reported that their ability to meet openly for religious worship improved. However, the government 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.
Because of the lack of due process and inconsistent oversight, religious activities were subject to the discretion of local officials. In some cases local officials reportedly told religious leaders that 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.
Unregistered religious groups could be vulnerable to coercive and punitive action by national and local authorities. In some parts of the country, local authorities tacitly approved of the activities of unregistered groups and did not interfere with them. In other areas local officials restricted the same activities. Some unregistered groups were moving towards national registration and recognition, but others chose not to seek registration.
The government stated that 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, including 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.
During the year, the government granted national recognition to two religious organizations: the Provisional Representative Board of Muslim Community in Ninh Thuan Province and the Vietnam Cao Dai Church in Binh Duc Province.
Several hundred ECVN congregations continued to await action on their applications to register. Reasons cited for delays included bureaucratic impediments such as not following correct procedures in completing forms or providing incomplete information. Local authorities also cited vague security concerns, stating that their political authority could be threatened or that confrontations could occur between traditional believers and recently converted Christians. During the year local authorities registered five to 10 new Evangelical congregations compared to 2010, when approximately 30 ECVN congregations were registered.
The Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship, an association of registered and unregistered denominations, reported that it was not permitted to register at the national level.
The government continued to restrict the movement of some UBCV leaders, although the UBCV operated many pagodas without restriction. As in previous years, UBCV leaders reported they were urged to restrict their movements although they were able to receive visits from foreign diplomats, visit other UBCV members, and maintain contact with associates overseas; however, these activities were closely scrutinized. While the government restricted most UBCV charitable activities, senior UBCV monks travelled in early January to distribute food aid to flood-stricken areas of the country. The UBCV reported having 20 representative boards in 15 cities and provinces. Provincial leaders of the UBCV throughout the southern region reported routine surveillance by local authorities. UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Quang Do stated he could meet with others inside and outside the pagoda.
The Hoa Hao Administrative Council is the officially recognized Hoa Hao body; however, several leaders of the Hoa Hao community openly criticized the council as overly subservient to the government. Dissenting Hoa Hao groups formed two smaller churches, the Traditional Hoa Hao Church and the Pure Hoa Hao Church. They faced some restrictions on their religious and political activities. The government prohibited commemorations of the disappearance of the Hoa Hao’s founder and readings of his writings. The government permitted publication of only five of the 10 Hoa Hao sacred books.
Police regularly discouraged worshipers from visiting temples and facilities affiliated with the unrecognized Pure Hoa Hao Church in An Giang, Vinh Long, Dong Thap, and Can Tho, especially on church holidays related to the lunar calendar and the anniversary of the death of the founder of Hoa Hao Buddhism.
The government continued to assert that some Montagnards, an ethnic minority in the Central Highlands, were operating an illegal “Dega” church. The government accused the Dega Protestant churches of calling for the creation of an independent Montagnard state. 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 feared association with separatist groups overseas.
The Religious Publishing House did not act on a longstanding request to allow printing of the Bible in the modern form of the H’mong language. The reason given for the delay was that the government recognizes only an archaic form of the H’mong language that is not in regular use today and cannot be read by the average H’mong.
Some ethnic minority worshippers in the Central Highlands--particularly in areas suspected to be affiliated with the “Dega” church--continued to be prevented from gathering to worship. The number of reported incidents was significantly lower than in previous years and appeared to reflect individual local bias rather than central government policy. In some instances the local officials involved apologized and were reprimanded or fired.
The movements of a number of UBCV, Catholic, Hoa Hao, and Protestant dignitaries and believers were occasionally restricted or monitored by police.
ECVN contacts in the Northwest Highlands confirmed that local authorities allowed some unregistered congregations to worship in their homes and to meet openly, in accordance with the prime minister’s 2005 instruction. Catholics and Protestants were able to celebrate Easter Mass in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang.