The constitution states that all people have freedom of belief and religion. The law provides for significant government control over religious practices and includes vague provisions that permit restrictions on religious freedom in the stated interest of national security and social unity. The 2016 Law on Belief and Religion, which came into effect in January, maintains a multistage registration and recognition process for religious groups but shortens the time for recognition at the national or provincial level from 23 to five years. It also specifies the right of recognized religious organizations to have legal personality. Religious leaders, particularly those representing groups without recognition or certificates of registration, reported various forms of government harassment – including physical assaults, arrests, prosecutions, monitoring, travel restrictions, and property seizure or destruction – and denials or no response to requests for registration and/or other permissions. For example, six independent Hoa Hao Buddhists were imprisoned in February on charges of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties.” There continued to be reports of severe harassment of religious adherents by authorities in the Central Highlands, specifically members of the Evangelical Church of Christ, and in the Northwest Highlands for H’mong Christians and Catholics, as well as for Catholic and Protestant groups in Nghe An Province. Religious group adherents reported local or provincial authorities committed the majority of harassment incidents. Members of recognized groups or those with certificates of registration were reportedly able to practice their beliefs with less government interference, although some recognized groups reported more difficulty gathering together in certain provinces, including the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) (ECVN) in Quang Binh, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, Ha Giang, and Hoa Binh Provinces. Others seeking to officially register their groups, including the United Presbyterian Church and the Vietnam Baptist Convention, also reported increased difficulty gathering in some provinces. Members of religious groups said some local and provincial authorities used the local and national regulatory systems to slow, delegitimize, and suppress religious activities of groups that resisted close government management of their leadership, training programs, assemblies, and other activities. The government registered two religious communities, the Vietnam Full Gospel Denomination and the Vietnam United Gospel Outreach Church, during the year. Registration is the second step in the three-step process towards recognition and does not convey legal status. For the first time since 1998, United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) leader Thich Quang Do took up residence in a UBCV-affiliated pagoda. The government also allowed renowned Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh to return to the country. Hanh resided at Tu Hieu Pagoda in Hue at year’s end, and adherents reported no difficulties visiting him. Hanh also received diplomats and senior government leaders.
There were several reports of registered Cao Dai adherents preventing adherents of the unsanctioned Cao Dai from performing certain religious rituals. There continued to be some incidents of harassment of Catholics by the progovernment Red Flag Association, although the group reportedly dissolved itself in March.
The Ambassador and senior embassy and consulate general officials urged authorities to allow all religious groups to operate freely, including the independent UBCV, Protestant and Catholic house churches, and independent and “pure” Hoa Hao and Cao Dai groups. They sought greater freedom for recognized religious groups and urged an end to restrictions on and harassment of groups without recognition or registration. The Ambassador, Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, and senior embassy officers advocated for religious freedom in visits across the country, including to the Central Highlands. The Ambassador and officials met regularly and maintained recurring contact with religious leaders across the country. The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with the chairman of the Government Committee on Religious Affairs in Washington, D.C. in July and raised concerns about implementation of the new law, the status of religious believers detained or imprisoned, and the situation of ethnic religious minority groups. The Ambassador at Large and a senior official from the Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor raised issues of religious freedom during the annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Washington in May.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
On February 9, a court in An Giang Province sentenced six independent Hoa Hao Buddhists – Bui Van Trung, Bui Van Tham, Nguyen Hoang Nam, Le Thi Hong Hanh, Le Thi Hen, and Bui Thi Bich Tuyen – to two to six years in prison on charges of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties.” Bui Van Trung was additionally charged with “causing public disorder.” Le Thi Hen’s sentence was later suspended due to health concerns, and authorities had not yet forced Bui Thi Bich Tuyen to report to prison. According to the indictment by the People’s Procuracy of An Phu District in November 2017, the defendants “disturbed the public order and impacted the safety and order of the traffic, causing a traffic jam on national route 91C by hindering, obstructing, pushing, and screaming to provoke and denounce transportation police.” According to Radio Free Asia, the basis of the charges against Trung was that in April 2017 family members and friends attempted to hold an unregistered death anniversary commemoration in Trung’s home prayer hall.
On April 5, a court in Hanoi sentenced independent Hoa Hao follower and religious freedom and human rights activist Nguyen Bac Truyen and Protestant Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton to 11 years and 12 years in prison, respectively, for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration.” Both had been associated with a group called the Brotherhood for Democracy and were tried with several other prominent human rights activists. Truyen ran the Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association and, among other activities, advocated for the rights of independent and unregistered Hoa Hao followers. Ton was a long-time advocate for human rights and religious freedom. He had been a member of Interfaith Council in Ho Chi Minh City, a group composed predominately of representatives of unregistered religions.
The family members of Ma Seo Sung, a H’mong Protestant man who died in police custody in 2017, were forced by local authorities to leave their homes during the year after repeated harassment, including threats of arrest, from local authorities in Buon Ma Thuot, Dak Lak Province, after they publicized details of Ma Seo Sung’s death, according to individuals close to the family. The family said commune police arrested Ma Seo Sung in 2017 under suspicion of “searching for a new Christian homeland.”
On April 12, a court in Thai Nguyen Province sentenced four Falun Gong practitioners to a total of nine years’ imprisonment for theft. According to independent media, local authorities confiscated their assets (including drums, loudspeakers, and drumsticks) when they practiced spiritual exercises in a park. Subsequently, the four practitioners reportedly came to the authorities’ office and took back their assets without consent.
Many independent and unsanctioned religious leaders who participated in the 2018 Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference in Thailand reported they faced harassment upon their return to Vietnam, including Chang A Do, a local leader and member of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam who was harassed and threatened with arrest in October by Communist Party representatives from the central and local governments, and by police and plainclothes individuals in Doan Ket Village, Dak Ngo Commune, Tuy Duc District, Dak Nong Province, according to a nongovernmental organization (NGO). Government officials also prevented several from leaving the country to attend the event.
On October 3 and 4, commune and district police in Krong Pac District, Dak Lak Province, convened a public denunciation of Ksor Sun, Pastor Y Nuen Ayun, and Y Jon Ayun, all members of the Evangelical Church of Christ, according to an NGO. Police accused the individuals of going against the government and the Communist Party of Vietnam. Police reportedly said these individuals should be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, and if they wanted to remain in the community, they must leave the Church of Christ.
In June staff working for the warden of Gia Trung Prison, Mang Yang District, Gia Lai Province, beat Pastor A Dao of the Evangelical Church of Christ, who advocated for religious freedom for his fellow church members in the Central Highlands, according to an NGO report.
Members of various ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands collectively known as Montagnards stated government officials continued to assault, monitor, interrogate, arbitrarily arrest, and discriminate against them, in part because of their religious practices. Officials stated that “Degar” Christians incited violent separatism by ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands from 2001 through 2008. State-run media published articles cautioning individuals that Degar Protestantism aimed to undertake antigovernment activities.
In some cases, Montagnards stated ongoing social and religious persecution drove them to flee to Cambodia and Thailand, where some sought asylum. Several such asylum seekers in Thailand reported local-level (communal) Vietnamese authorities continued to harass them remotely, through social media and by harassing, intimidating, and in some cases threatening and physically assaulting family members back home.
In Song Ngoc Catholic parish, Vinh Diocese, Nghe An Province, there were multiple incidents of plainclothes individuals harassing parishioners and priests, assaulting parishioners, and damaging church property and the property of parishioners, according to Catholic representatives and NGOs.
In April plainclothes individuals assaulted parishioners of Dong Kieu parish at Dien My Commune, Nghe An Province, according to Catholic representatives and NGOs.
On December 25, police from Nan San Commune, Si Ma Cai District, Lao Cai Province in the Northwest Highlands, reportedly stopped a Christmas celebration of the H’mong Gospel Missionary Church and assaulted adherent Hang Seo Pao for holding an unsanctioned gathering. Church members said they had applied to local authorities for permission to hold the gathering but were denied.
Throughout the year, local authorities in Trung Lap Ha Commune, Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City, told members of the UBCV Lien Tri home pagoda to stop praying and to remove all banners and UBCV Buddhist flags. The authorities said persons attending the ceremony could continue to gather but could not give offerings, pray, or administer rituals, as their location was unregistered. According to one adherent, in August and September plainclothes police surveilled the pagoda and prevented monks from leaving.
A senior pastor of an unregistered Protestant church reported that local authorities did not allow his organization to organize summer camps for children in the Central Highlands and Northern Highlands and asked some members not to worship in Quang Ngai, Ninh Thuan, Dak Lak, and Dak Nong Provinces.
Members of the military were not permitted to read the Bible or practice religious rites at any time while on active duty; they had to take personal leave to conduct such activities, religious freedom experts reported. The Association for the Protection of Freedom of Religion reportedly sent a petition to the government in 2015 requesting soldiers be allowed to attend church while on duty; however, the association still had yet to receive a response. There were no clear regulations for religious expression in the military, with individual unit commanders having significant discretion, experts reported.
Authorities continued to deny some prisoners and detainees the right to religious practice. Officers at the Nam Ha detention facility, Phu Ly District, Ha Nam Province, continued to refuse to allow a priest to visit Catholic prisoner Ho Duc Hoa, according to Hoa’s family. Prison authorities stated this was due to the lack of appropriate facilities inside the prison for the priest to perform services. Other prisoners continued to report they were allowed to read the Bible or other religious materials and practice their beliefs while incarcerated. According to an NGO, independent Hoa Hao adherent Bui Van Trung was able to have a censored version of the Hoa Hao scripture in prison.
Registered Protestant, Buddhist, and Cao Dai leaders reportedly did not face the same difficulties as independent or unregistered Protestant, Buddhist, and Cao Dai leaders. Media carried reports of registered religious groups celebrating festivals without impediment.
On December 18, Joseph Vu Van Thien was installed as the new Archbishop of Hanoi at a ceremony attended by Catholic leaders from Vietnam and the Vatican and by members of the diplomatic corps. The prime minister also received a high-level Vatican delegation on December 18.
On September 24, local and central authorities permitted a Cao Dai festival commemorating the Holy Goddess Mother to be held at the Cao Dai Holy See. The festival drew the participation of hundreds of thousands of adherents and pilgrims, including foreign religious representatives, foreign diplomats, and international academia. Senior officials of Tay Ninh Province and the CRA also attended the festival.
The government stated it continued to monitor the activities of certain religious groups because of their political activism and invoked national security and solidarity provisions in the constitution and penal code to override laws and regulations providing for religious freedom. For example, the government impeded some religious gatherings and blocked attempts by religious groups to proselytize certain ethnic groups in border regions deemed sensitive, including the Central Highlands, Northwest Highlands, and certain Mekong Delta provinces.
Government treatment of foreigners seeking to worship or proselytize varied in practice from locality to locality. Foreigners were generally able to meet and conduct services. Municipal officials allowed multiple foreign religious congregations to meet. Some foreign religious congregations said they could conduct charitable activities with tacit, but not official, permission.
State-run media and progovernment websites sometimes equated particular Christian denominations and other religious groups with separatist movements, blaming them for political, economic, and social problems, particularly in remote areas in the Northwest and Central Highlands where there was a high concentration of ethnic minorities. Progovernment websites repeatedly accused these groups of being “cover” for or “tools” of “hostile forces to act against the state,” “disrupt the great solidarity” or “destroy the [Vietnamese] culture” and warned the public not to be “fooled.” Many progovernment websites and blogs criticized various religious groups and believers who were critical of the authorities or engaged in any activities that the authorities deemed sensitive, including protests against China, the cybersecurity law, land confiscation, or various social and economic issues. Groups attracting the most vociferous criticism on these sites included priests and Catholics in the central part of the country, particularly in Nghe An Province, Falun Gong practitioners, and Protestants in the Central Highlands.
Catholic priests in the central part of the country continued to help organize a series of demonstrations calling for stronger environmental protection. Many Catholic churches in these provinces held demonstrations in June to protest draft laws on special administrative economic zones and a new restrictive cybersecurity law. Priests continued to assist parishioners in filing complaints and lawsuits against the government for financial compensation for losses suffered in the aftermath of a 2016 industrial disaster in the region. State-run media and progovernment blogs continued to publish material defaming priests who assisted activists and victims of the 2016 Formosa incident in which a steel mill discharged toxic waste into the sea, leading to a massive fish kill in the central part of the country. Priests who helped victims were reportedly pressured by authorities to leave their parishes. In February the Bishop of Vinh Diocese transferred Father Dang Huu Nam, who had served in Phu Yen Parish near the steel mill for three years. State-run media quoted the bishop as saying he was not pressured to make this decision.
Progovernment blogs published multiple articles criticizing Catholic priests and parishioners who were vocal in their opposition to the government on a variety of issues, including a cybersecurity law that human rights groups and others said could lead to violations of freedom of expression and other human rights, accusing them of receiving money from and “colluding with hostile forces with the purpose of inciting public disorder and acting against the Communist Party and State.”
In August police and local authorities in Hue surrounded the local UBCV temple and reportedly harassed, intimidated, and intercepted members of the Buddhist Youth Movement as they organized the movement’s annual summer camp.
Multiple Buddhist clergy of the recognized Vietnam Buddhist Sangha who supported land rights activists or were outspoken about suspected corruption within the organization reported local authorities continued to harass them and members of their pagodas, including in Bac Giang Province and in Hanoi. They said harassment included intimidation of monks and nuns, expulsion by force of clergy from their buildings, suspected plainclothes police breaking into religious buildings, the destruction of pagoda property, and theft of cash donations from villagers. Central government authorities agreed to allow at least one of these individuals, a Sangha nun, to return to her pagoda if she ceased petitioning the government.
In November UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Quang Do stated he left the government-sanctioned Thanh Minh Monastery in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, of his own accord to travel to his home province to bless a pagoda for his family. Do subsequently returned to Ho Chi Minh City and took up residence in the UBCV-affiliated Tu Hieu Pagoda, the first time he had been able to live in a UBCV pagoda since 1998. Earlier reports, primarily on social media, said Do’s superior monk, Thich Thanh Minh, had been pressured by authorities and asked Do to leave because his presence caused political and economic problems for the monastery.
Other UBCV leaders stated the government continued to monitor their activities and restrict their movements, although they were able to meet with some foreign diplomats, visit other UBCV members, and maintain contact with associates overseas. General Secretary Le Cong Cau of the UBCV reported local police closely watched him and prevented him from traveling outside Hue.
Throughout the year, Falun Gong practitioners reported harassment by authorities in numerous provinces and cities, including Cao Bang, Lang Son, Son La, Nghe An, Hue, Lam Dong, Dong Thap, Ca Mau, Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Quang Ngai, Hue, and Hanoi. Harassment included local authorities asking them to leave the parks where practitioners had gathered and other public spaces, where individuals were blaring loud music and throwing items such as fermented fish sauce on practitioners.
State media reported authorities at different levels in the Northwest Highlands, including Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, Bac Can, and Thai Nguyen Provinces, continued to state the Duong Van Minh religious group was a threat to national security, political stability, and social order. Authorities said eliminating membership in the group was a priority. During the year, authorities in Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, and Bac Can collectively reportedly destroyed 38 structures used to store funerary objects used by the Duong Van Minh group and burned the funerary objects inside. Authorities in these provinces and Thai Nguyen also reportedly encouraged schoolchildren not to follow the Duong Van Minh religion.
Throughout the year, there were numerous reports of harassment of H’mong Protestants in the Northwest and Central Highlands. Local officials in several provinces in the Central Highlands, including Doan Ket Village, Dak Ngo Commune, Tuy Duc District, Dak Nong Province, denied household registration, which is necessary for all Vietnamese citizens, to approximately 700 H’mong Christian individuals who had migrated there in recent years, according to an NGO and H’mong Protestant sources. As a result, many of their children were unable to go to school.
Some registered and unregistered Protestant groups continued to report local authorities, particularly in the Central Highlands, pressured newer congregations to affiliate with older, well-established congregations. Pastors said this practice was widespread in ethnic minority villages in Gia Lai and Kon Tum Provinces. Authorities reportedly also pressured smaller Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) congregations, some with as many as 100 followers, to combine into larger groups of up to 1,500 in order to be registered. Church leaders again stated such requests were unreasonable, saying many of the congregations were composed of a variety of ethnic minority groups with different languages and incongruent worship practices. Mountainous terrain and lack of infrastructure in the rural highlands prevented other SECV churches from sustaining the required minimum number of followers necessary to qualify for local registration.
Religious leaders expressed mixed views on the new Law on Belief and Religion. Some religious groups and experts continued to state the new law was a step forward in certain areas for religious freedom, including the reduced registration/recognition time and granting legal personality to religious groups. Some religious groups and experts expressed concern that a more precise legal approach and registration process could make the operations of religious groups – including registration of meeting points and clergy, expansion, and proselytization – more difficult. Religious leaders and experts continued to emphasize that the two implementing decrees, one still in draft form, and actual implementation of the law, particularly at the local level, would be critical, and expressed frustration at the uneven implementation to date.
The government organized multiple conferences and training sessions on the new law throughout the year at the local, provincial, and national levels, including a public presentation in May for Hanoi-based diplomats and government implementers. Religious leaders in remote areas of An Giang Province stated they had received training on the new law and that it had been translated into local languages. Religious leaders continued to note existing laws and regulations on education, health, publishing, and construction were restrictive toward religious groups and would need to be revised to allow religious groups greater freedom to conduct such activities in practice.
Religious leaders and academics said the new law continued to enshrine in the country’s legal framework significant restrictions and bureaucratic controls over religious activity. Many religious leaders expressed concern the law continued to give significant discretion to the government regarding approving or denying various types of applications. Some observers continued to say the new law was not in place to protect religious freedom but rather to serve and cater to the rules of the Communist Party. Groups also stated the law should allow religious organizations to conduct activities without the need for government approvals.
Registered and unregistered religious groups continued to state government agencies sometimes did not respond to registration applications or approval requests for religious activities within the stipulated time period, if at all, and often did not specify reasons for refusals. Some groups reported they successfully appealed local decisions to higher-level authorities through informal channels. Several religious leaders reported authorities sometimes asked for bribes to facilitate approvals. Authorities attributed the delays and denials to the failure of applicants to complete forms correctly or provide complete information. Religious groups said the process to register groups or notify activities in new locations was particularly difficult.
Churches affiliated with the ECVN had difficulty registering with local authorities in Quang Binh, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, and Hoa Binh Provinces. The ECVN stated that more than 1,000 affiliates and a total of 500 of its meeting points were recognized, although there were many more it wished to register. Church leaders said that local authorities permitted individuals to gather without incident at unregistered meeting points in numerous provinces. Numbers were not available for the south.
Local authorities continued to cite general security concerns, such as political destabilization or potential conflict between followers of established ethnic or traditional religious beliefs and newly introduced Christian beliefs, as reasons to deny approval.
According to many Catholic bishops, parishes in remote areas or with majority ethnic minority populations continued to face difficulty registering with provincial authorities, uneven and inconsistent enforcement of national laws, and a lack of accountability on the part of provincial authorities. Catholic leaders again stated the most problematic regions were in the Central Highlands (Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Kon Tum, and Lam Dong Provinces), and the Northwest Highlands, including Hoa Binh, Son La, Dien Bien, Lai Chau, Lao Cai, and Yen Bai.
Hoa Binh authorities continued to deny Luong Son parish’s application to become a parish-affiliate of Hoa Binh Diocese and did not respond to a similar request from Vu Ban parish, Catholic representatives reported. Authorities said the Long Son application was not complete and Vu Ban was a new parish, which the Church continued to dispute, according to Catholic authorities.
Some Buddhist, Protestant, and Cao Dai groups chose not to affiliate with any government-recognized or government-registered religious organizations, nor did they seek their own registration or recognition. Unregistered Buddhist, Cao Dai, and Christian religious groups, including members of the Interfaith Council, continued to regularly report some provincial authorities used local registration laws as a pretext to pressure, intimidate, threaten, extort, harass, and assault them, and discouraged their members’ participation in the groups.
On November 9, plainclothes police in Lam Dong reportedly set fire to a storage room at the coffee plantation of Hua Phi, an unregistered Cao Dai master, the day after he met with foreign diplomats in Ho Chi Minh City. The storage room was completely destroyed, but no casualties were reported.
On September 11, the CRA granted a “certificate of registration for religious activities” to Vietnam Full Gospel Denomination at a ceremony in Ho Chi Minh City. On December 14, the CRA granted a “certificate of registration for religious activities” to the Vietnam United Gospel Outreach Church, also in Ho Chi Minh City.
The ECVN and the unregistered Vietnam Baptist Convention both reported increased difficulty gathering in well-established meeting points during the year, including in Bac Giang and Thanh Hoa Provinces. In their rejections of applications and disruptions of religious services, local authorities noted that they viewed prior gatherings as illegal and explained the meeting points had not fulfilled requirements for organizing and conducting religious gatherings. For example, they had “no legal representatives who coordinate with the authorities in exercising the state management of religious activities in line with the law” or failed “to meet order and safety requirements.”
Throughout the year, independent Hoa Hao followers and activists reported local authorities, police, and suspected plainclothes police in several provinces, including An Giang, Vinh Long, and Dong Thap, and in Can Tho City established checkpoints to monitor and prevent them from travelling to the unregistered Quang Minh Pagoda, to participate in a major religious commemoration. Local authorities reportedly said the government would not allow Hoa Hao followers to commemorate anniversaries related to the life of Prophet Huynh Phu So.
On April 18, public security officials in Ko M’Leo Hamlet, Hoa Thang Commune, Buon Ma Thuot City, Dak Lak Province, came to a house church of the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ, interrogated adherents about their religious activities, and told them not to worship in a group or teach the Bible because the church was not registered, according to an NGO. On April 27, public security officials in Ea Yong A Hamlet, Ea Yong Commune, Krong Pac District, Dak Lak Province, reportedly “invited” a churchgoer to the ward official’s office for interrogation on his religious activities and the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ. The officials forbade him to worship at home, attend services of the Evangelical Church of Christ, or attend other unregistered Protestant churches. During May and June public security officials in Tot Bioch Village, Chu Se Town, Gia Lai Province, and in Buon Ho Town, Dak Lak Province, monitored suspected evangelical Christians, interrogated them about their religious activities, and told them to recant their faith, according to an NGO.
Leaders and members of unregistered congregations reported police harassment, such as being detained for questioning, undergoing increased surveillance, and having their cell phones and Bibles confiscated. There were reports of severe harassment in Dak Lak, Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Binh Phuoc, Tra Vinh, and Phu Yen Provinces, among others.
In Muong Khuong District, Lao Cai Province, local authorities continued to prevent Catholic priests from conducting services in certain areas. A priest stated that authorities targeted him and his parishioners on July 31 after they visited parishioners in Cao Son and La Pan Tan Village at unregistered meeting points. Before the visit, the priest said he filed a registration request with the local authorities but received no response.
Although the law prohibits publishing of all materials, including religious materials, without government approval, in practice some private, unlicensed publishing houses continued to unofficially print and distribute religious texts without active government interference. Other licensed publishers printed books on religion. Publishers had permission to print the Bible in Vietnamese and a number of other languages, including Chinese, Ede, Jarai, Banar, M’nong, H’mong, C’ho, and English. Other published texts included, but were not limited to, works pertaining to ancestor worship, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Cao Dai.
On March 2, authorities permitted a showing of the film “Walk With Me,” a documentary on the doctrine of Zen Buddhism master Thich Nhat Hanh. The film was reportedly shown in more than 60 theaters throughout the country.
Some Protestant church leaders, Montagnards, and followers of Duong Van Minh stated that local authorities seized their land or property partly due to their religious beliefs or that they received less compensation for seized land than others not affiliated with these groups. Provincial authorities routinely dispersed religious gatherings and directed officials to organize public renunciations of Degar Christianity or other “unauthorized Christian beliefs” among ethnic minority communities.
In July 2017, the Thua-Thien Hue Provincial People’s Committee met representatives of the Thien An Monastery and Catholic Archdiocese of Hue to try to resolve a nearly 20-year-old land dispute related to the Thien An Monastery. At the end of the year, the dispute remained unresolved; both sides stated they welcomed the opportunity for dialogue.
During the year, Venerable Thich Khong Tanh and monks from the Lien Tri Pagoda, which district authorities in Ho Chi Minh City demolished in 2016, were still living at dispersed locations throughout the city. Tanh reported local authorities refused to offer any site to rebuild the pagoda other than the one previously offered in the Cat Lai area of Ho Chi Minh City, which Tanh said he found inappropriate.
On November 9 in Da Nang City, Son Tra District authorities in Da Nang City demolished the unregistered An Cu house pagoda, affiliated with the UBCV, after three years of land-use negotiations failed.
Relocation discussions between authorities and leaders of the Dong Men Thanh Gia (Lovers of the Holy Cross) Thu Thiem Catholic Convent and Thu Thiem Catholic Church continued at year’s end.
On September 19, the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Natural Resources and Environment announced the city had granted land-use certificates to more than 800 religious entities consisting of a total area of more than 200 hectares (500 acres). The city reportedly aimed to issue land-use certificates to all local religious groups by the end of 2019. Local authorities granted the Kon Tum Archdiocese a land-use certificate during the year.
The government continued to restrict the number of students permitted to enroll in Catholic and Protestant seminaries. The churches’ leadership said the numbers allowed were inadequate to meet demand. ECVN leaders said 23 students graduated from their Bible school in the last five years. The government continued to permit them to recruit new students every two years.
On December 17 in Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnam Seventh-day Adventist Church organized the opening ceremony of its first domestic Christian Bible College.
Authorities permitted Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Baha’i, and Buddhist groups to provide religious education to adherents in their own facilities, and religious leaders noted increased enrollment in recent years. Students continued to participate in training sessions on fundamental Buddhist philosophy organized at pagodas nationwide during summer holidays.
Some religious leaders faced travel restrictions, and leaders and followers of certain religious groups faced restrictions on movement by government authorities. On May 14, border guards in Bo Y Border Gate, Kon Tum Province, prohibited Catholic Redemptorist Father Dinh Huu Thoai from exiting the country without providing justification for his travel.
In January, February, and May, independent Cao Dai follower Hua Phi reported local authorities did not allow him to leave Lam Dong Province for travel to Ho Chi Minh City for medical treatment. He said he was allowed to seek treatment later in the year.
During the year, authorities lifted travel restrictions on certain religious leaders. Authorities again permitted Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to visit Danang and Hue, his second annual visit after a decade outside the country. Hanh resided at Tu Hieu Pagoda in Hue at year’s end, and adherents reported no difficulties visiting him.
Protestant and Catholic groups continued to report that legal restrictions and lack of legal clarity on operating faith-based medical and educational facilities made them wary of attempting to open hospitals or parochial schools, despite government statements welcoming religious groups to expand participation in health, education, and charitable activities. Catholic representatives said the government refused to return hospitals, clinics, and schools seized from the Catholic Church in past decades, although Catholic leaders noted modest progress with local authorities in land disputes around the country. The majority of educational facilities owned and run by religious groups continued to be kindergartens and preschools.
In several cases, local authorities permitted religious organizations to operate social services and to gather for training. For example, in Hanoi and surrounding areas, city officials continued to allow Protestant house churches to operate drug rehabilitation centers, and a church affiliated with the Full Gospel Church in Quoc Oai, a district of Hanoi, noted progress in dealing with local authorities and expanding drug treatment operations following authorities’ acceptance of the Full Gospel Church’s Registration of Religious Operation. The registration had eased the affiliated church’s operations in areas outside Quoc Oai as well, according to the church leader.
Most representatives of religious groups continued to report adherence to a registered religious group generally did not seriously disadvantage individuals in nongovernmental civil, economic, and secular life, but that adherence to an unregistered group was more disadvantageous. Practitioners of various registered religions served in local and provincial government positions and were represented in the National Assembly. Many nationally recognized religious organizations, such as the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, as well as other clergy and religious followers, were members of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, an umbrella group for government-affiliated organizations under the guidance of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). High-ranking government officials sent greetings and visited churches during Christmas and Easter and attended Vesak activities commemorating the birth of the Buddha. The official resumes of the top three CPV leaders stated they followed no religion.
While Catholics and Protestants could serve in the enlisted ranks (including during temporary mandatory military service), commissioned officers were not permitted to be religious believers. Religious adherents continued to be customarily excluded through the military recruitment process.