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Executive Summary

The constitution declares Islam the religion of the state but safeguards “the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites” as long as these are consistent with public order and morality.  It stipulates there shall be no discrimination based on religion.  It does not address the right to convert to another faith, nor are there penalties under civil law for doing so.  According to the constitution, matters concerning the personal and family status of Muslims come under the jurisdiction of sharia courts.  Under sharia, converts from Islam are still considered Muslims and are subject to sharia but are regarded as apostates.  Converts to Christianity from Islam reported that security officials continued to question them to determine their “true” religious beliefs and practices.  The government continued to deny official recognition to some religious groups, including Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Converts to Islam from Christianity and from Christianity to Islam continued to report security officials questioning them regarding their religious beliefs and practices, as well as some instances of surveillance.  Muslim women were unable to attend congregational Friday prayers throughout the year as part of the government’s efforts to reduce crowd sizes, although the government eased most COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions in September.  Members of some unregistered religious groups continued to face problems registering their marriages and the religious affiliation of their children, and also renewing their residency permits.  The government continued to monitor mosque sermons and required that preachers refrain from unsanctioned political commentary and adhere to approved themes and texts.  The Judicial Council issued an order in February requiring adherents of unrecognized Christian denominations to use an ecclesiastical court (instead of civil courts) to adjudicate Personal Status Law (PSL), but it reversed the order in March.

Some converts to Christianity from Islam continued to report ostracism as well as physical and verbal abuse from their families and communities, and some worshipped in secret due to the social stigma they faced.  Some converts reported persistent threats of violence from family members concerned with protecting traditional honor.  Religious leaders reported continued online hate speech directed towards religious minorities and moderates, frequently through social media.  Some social media users defended interfaith tolerance, with posts condemning content that criticized Christianity or tried to discourage interfaith dialogue.  In December, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) suspended a 10-year-old partnership with Roya TV, a privately owned, Amman-based satellite television channel, over “the discovery of anti-Israeli and antisemitic comments and caricatures in social media disseminated” by Roya.

U.S. embassy officers continued to engage with government officials at all levels, including the Minister of Awqaf, Islamic Affairs, and Holy Places (Minister of Awqaf), Grand Mufti, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, and officials at the Royal Hashemite Court, to raise the rights of religious minorities, the protection of cultural resources, and interfaith tolerance.  Embassy officers also engaged with Muslim scholars, Christian community leaders and members, and representatives of unrecognized religious groups to promote interfaith tolerance and dialogue.  The embassy supported programs promoting religious tolerance, as well as civil society programs seeking to preserve the cultural heritage of religious minorities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to U.S. government estimates, Muslims, virtually all of whom are Sunni, make up 97.1 percent of the population while Christians make up 2.1 percent.  Church leaders’ estimates of the size of the Christian community range from approximately 1.8 percent to as high as 3 percent of the country’s population.  Groups constituting less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists, Baha’is, Hindus, and Druze (who are considered Muslims by the government).  According to the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies (RIIFS), there is also a small community (consisting of a few migrant families) of Zoroastrians and Yezidis.  Most of the more than one million migrant workers are from Egypt, South and Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.  Migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia are often Christian or Hindu.  There are an estimated 760,000 refugees and other displaced persons registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 57 countries of origin, including more than 670,000 Syrians, 67,000 Iraqis, and 13,000 Yemenis.  The government states there are 1.3 million Syrians present in the country.  The Syrian and Iraqi refugee populations are mostly Sunni Muslim.  Shia Muslims and Christians account for less than one-third of the Iraqi refugee population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam “the religion of the state” but safeguards “the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites,” as long as these are consistent with public order and morality.  It stipulates there shall be no discrimination in the rights and duties of citizens on grounds of religion and states the King must be a Muslim.  The constitution allows for religious courts, including sharia courts for Muslims and ecclesiastical courts for Christian denominations recognized by the government.  According to the General Iftaa Department, the office charged with issuing religious guidance in the form of fatwas, in adjudicating personal status cases, sharia courts follow the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence.

The constitution does not address the right to convert to another faith, nor are there penalties under civil law for doing so.  The constitution and the law, however, allow sharia courts to determine civil status affairs for Muslims; these courts do not recognize converts from Islam to other religions.  Under sharia, converts from Islam and their children are still considered Muslims and are subject to sharia but are regarded as apostates.  Neither the penal code nor the criminal code specifies a penalty for apostasy.  Sharia courts, however, have jurisdiction over marriage, divorce, and inheritance, and individuals declared to be apostates may have their marriages annulled or be disinherited, except in the case of a will that states otherwise.  Any member of society may file an apostasy complaint against such individuals before the Sharia Public Prosecution.  The Sharia Public Prosecution consults with the Council of Church Leaders (CCL), a government advisory body comprising the heads of the country’s 11 officially recognized Christian denominations, before converting a Christian to Islam to make sure the conversion is based on religious conviction and not for purposes of marriage and/or divorce.  The penal code contains articles criminalizing acts such as incitement of hatred, blasphemy against Abrahamic faiths, undermining the regime, or portraying citizens in a manner that violates their dignity.  The penal code criminalizes insulting the Prophet Muhammad, punishable by one to three years’ imprisonment.  Written works, speeches, and actions intended to cause or resulting in sectarian strife, including conflicts between religious groups, are punishable by one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 200 Jordanian dinars ($280).  The law also provides a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding 20 dinars ($28) for anyone who publishes anything that offends religious feelings or beliefs and for anyone who speaks within earshot of another person in a public space and offends that individual’s beliefs.

Authorities may prosecute individuals who proselytize Muslims under the penal code’s provisions against “inciting sectarian conflict” or “harming the national unity.”  Both of these offenses are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to 200 dinars ($280).

Islamic religious groups are granted recognition through the constitution and do not need to register with the government.  Non-Islamic religious groups must obtain official recognition through registration.  If registered as “denominations,” they may administer rites such as marriage.  Recognized religious groups may also own land, open bank accounts, and enter into contracts.  Religious groups may alternatively be registered as “associations.”  If so, they must work through a recognized denomination on matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance, but they may own property and open bank accounts.  They must obtain government approval to accept foreign funding.  Recognized non-Islamic religious groups are tax-exempt but do not receive the government subsidies granted to Islamic religious groups.

Religious groups not recognized as denominations or associations lack legal status and may not undertake basic administrative tasks such as opening bank accounts, purchasing real estate, or hiring staff.  Individuals may exercise such activities on behalf of the unrecognized group, however.  To register as a recognized religious denomination, the group must submit its bylaws, a list of its members, its budget, and information regarding its religious doctrine to the Ministry of Interior and Prime Ministry.  In determining whether to register or recognize Christian groups, the Prime Minister confers with the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and the CCL.  Although the practice is not explicitly mandated by law or the constitution, church and government leaders have stated that the CCL must endorse recognition for new Christian groups prior to the Prime Minister’s approval.  To achieve official recognition as denominations, Christian groups must be recommended by the MOI and approved by the cabinet.  The government also refers to the following criteria when considering recognition of Christian groups:  the group’s teachings must not contradict the nature of the constitution, public ethics, customs, or traditions; the Middle East Council of Churches, a regional body comprising four families of churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical), must recognize it; its religious doctrine must not be antagonistic to Islam as the state religion; and the group’s membership must meet a minimum number of citizens, although a precise figure is not specified.

An annex to the 2014 Law for Councils of Christian Denominations lists 11 officially recognized Christian religious groups:  Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Anglican, Maronite Catholic, Lutheran, Syrian Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist, United Pentecostal, and Coptic.  In 2018, five additional evangelical Christian denominations, formerly registered under the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), were recognized by the MOI as associations but not as religious denominations and, as a result, none have been permitted to establish an ecclesiastical court:  the Free Evangelical Church, Church of the Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Baptist Church.  Religious groups such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not registered and gather in unofficial meetings places.  The government granted legal status as an association to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2018.

The CCL serves as an administrative body to facilitate tax and customs exemptions, as well as to issue civil documents related to marriage or inheritance.  In other matters, such as issuing work permits or purchasing land, the denominations interact directly with the relevant ministries.  Religious groups that do not have representatives on the CCL handle administrative tasks through the ministry relevant to the task.  Unrecognized Christian groups do not have representatives on the CCL, have no legal status as entities, and must have individual members of their groups conduct business with the government on their behalf.

According to the constitution, a special provision of the law regulates the activities and administration of finances of the Islamic awqaf (religious endowments).  Per this provision of the law, the Ministry of Awqaf manages mosques, appoints imams, pays mosque staff salaries, manages Islamic clergy training centers, and subsidizes certain mosque-sponsored activities, such as holiday celebrations and religious observances.  Other Islamic institutions are the Supreme (Sharia) Justice Department, headed by the Office of the Supreme (Sharia) Justice (OSJ) and in charge of the sharia courts, and the General Iftaa Department, which issues fatwas.

The government requires imams to adhere to officially prescribed themes for Friday sermons.  Muslim clergy who do not follow government policy may be suspended, issued a written warning, banned from delivering Friday sermons for a certain period, or dismissed from the Ministry of Awqaf.  In addition to these administrative measures, a preacher who violates the law may be imprisoned for a period of one week to one month or given a fine not to exceed 20 dinars ($28).

The law forbids any Islamic cleric from issuing a fatwa unless authorized by an official committee headed by the Grand Mufti in the General Iftaa Department.  This department is independent from the Ministry of Awqaf, with the rank of Grand Mufti being equal to that of a government minister.

The law prohibits the publication of media items that slander or insult “founders of religion or prophets” or that are deemed contemptuous of “any of the religions whose freedom is protected by the constitution,” and it imposes a fine on violators of up to 20,000 dinars ($28,200).  The government’s Media Commission regulates the publishing and distribution of all books and media.  If the Media Commission deems that passages “violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are insulting to the King,” it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book.

By law, public schools provide Islamic religious instruction as part of the basic national curriculum; non-Muslim students are allowed to opt out.  Private schools may offer alternative religious instruction.  The constitution provides “congregations” (a term not defined in the constitution, but which, according to the legal code, includes religious groups recognized as denominations and associations) the right to establish their own schools, provided “they comply with the general provisions of the law and are subject to the control of government in matters relating to their curricula and orientation.”  To operate a school, religious institutions must receive permission from the Ministry of Education, which ensures the curriculum meets national standards.  The ministry does not oversee religious courses if religious groups offer them at their places of worship.  In several cities, Christian groups, including Baptists, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics, operate private schools and are able to conduct religious instruction.  Private schools, both nonreligious and religious, are open to adherents of all religions.

Knowledge of the Quran is required by law for Muslim students in both public and private schools but is optional for non-Muslims.  Every student, however, must pass an Arabic language exam in their final year of high school that includes linguistic mastery of some verses of the Quran.  Islamic themes appear in lesson examples of other subjects’ curriculums.  The Islamic religion is an optional subject for secondary education certificate exams for non-Muslim students following the standard curriculum, or for Muslim students following international curricula.

The constitution specifies the judiciary shall be divided into civil courts, religious courts, and special courts, with religious courts divided into sharia courts and tribunals of other religious communities.  According to the constitution, matters concerning personal status, which include religious affiliation, marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are under the jurisdiction of religious courts.  Matters of personal status in which the parties are Muslim fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of sharia courts.  A personal or family status case in which one party is Muslim and the other is non-Muslim is heard by a civil court unless both parties agree to use a sharia court.  According to the constitution, matters of the personal status of non-Muslims whose religion the government officially recognizes are under the jurisdiction of denomination-specific courts of religious communities, except for matters of inheritance, when sharia is applied to all persons, regardless of religious affiliation.  Such ecclesiastical courts exist for the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, and Anglican communities.  According to the law, members of recognized religious groups lacking their own courts may take their cases to civil courts, which, in principle, follow the rules and beliefs of the litigants’ denomination in deciding cases, unless both parties to a case agree to use a specific religious court.  There are no tribunals for atheists or adherents of unrecognized religious groups.  Such individuals must request a civil court to hear their case.

The OSJ appoints sharia judges, while each recognized non-Islamic religious community selects the structure and members of its own tribunal.  The law stipulates the cabinet must ratify the procedures of each non-Islamic religious (ecclesiastical) court.  All judicial nominations must be approved by a royal decree.

According to the constitution, sharia courts also exercise jurisdiction with respect to cases concerning “blood money” (diya) in which the two parties are Muslims or one of the parties is not a Muslim and the two parties consent to the jurisdiction of the sharia courts.  Sharia courts also exercise jurisdiction regarding matters pertaining to Islamic awqaf.  Muslims are also subject to the jurisdiction of sharia courts on civil matters not addressed by civil status legislation.

Sharia courts do not recognize converts from Islam as falling under the jurisdiction of their new religious community’s laws in matters of personal status.  Sharia court judges may annul the marriages of converts and transfer child custody to a Muslim nonparent family member or declare the children “wards of the state” and convey an individual’s property rights to Muslim family members.

According to the PSL, in accordance with its interpretation of sharia, marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man are not permitted; the man must convert to Islam for the marriage to be considered legal.  If a Christian woman converts to Islam while married to a Christian man, her husband must also convert to Islam for their marriage to remain legal.  If a Christian man converts to Islam while married to a Christian woman, the wife does not need to convert to Islam for the marriage to remain legal.  There is no legal provision for civil marriage or divorce for members of unrecognized religious groups.  Members of nonregistered Christian groups, as well as members of groups registered as associations, must obtain marriage certificates from any recognized Christian denomination with an ecclesiastical court, such as the Anglican or Orthodox Churches, which they then may take to the Civil Status Bureau to receive their government marriage certificates.

Sharia governs all matters relating to family law involving Muslims or the children of a Muslim father.  The PSL stipulates that mothers, regardless of religious background, may retain custody of their children until age 18.  Minor children of male citizens who convert to Islam are considered Muslims and are not legally allowed to reconvert to their father’s prior religion or convert to any other religion.  Like citizenship, religion is transmitted only via the father.  Female children of a Muslim father who converts to Christianity remain registered as Muslims and thus are ineligible to marry a non-Muslim.

In accordance with sharia, adult children of a man who has converted to Islam become ineligible to inherit from their father if they do not also convert to Islam, unless the father’s will states otherwise.  All citizens, including non-Muslims, are subject to the PSL, which mostly follows Islamic legal provisions regarding inheritance if no equivalent inheritance guidelines are codified in their religion or if the state does not recognize their religion.  In practice, Christian ecclesiastical courts use sharia-based rules to adjudicate inheritance.

National identification cards issued since May 2016 do not list religion, but religious affiliation is contained in records embedded in the card’s electronic chip and remains on file in other government records.  National identification cards are renewed every 10 years.  Passports issued since May 2016 do not list religion.  Passports are renewed every five years.  Atheists and agnostics must list the religious affiliation of their fathers as their own.  Per the ban on conversion from Islam under sharia, converts from Islam are not allowed to change their religion on electronic records.  Converts to Islam must change their religion on their civil documents, such as family books (a national registration record issued to every head of family), and on electronic records.

According to the electoral law, Christians are allocated nine of 130 parliamentary seats.  Christians may not run for office in electorates not designated as Christian seats.  No seats are reserved for adherents of other minority religious groups.  The law stipulates that Muslims must hold all parliamentary seats not specifically reserved for Christians.  There are no reserved seats for the Druze population.  The government classifies Druze as Muslims and permits them to hold office as Muslims.

Although the constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, labor law does not explicitly prohibit it.

The National Center for Human Rights, a quasi-independent institution established by law, receives both government and international funding.  The Prime Minister nominates its board of trustees, and the King ratifies their appointment by royal decree.  The board appointed in 2019 includes Islamists, former cabinet ministers, former judges, members of parliament, religious leaders, and civil society representatives.

The law prohibits parties formed on the basis of religion or sect, as well as membership in unlicensed parties.

In 2020, the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, dissolved the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s (JMB) legal identity, saying the organization had failed to resolve its legal status.  Authorities shut down the Brotherhood’s headquarters and several offices in 2016 and transferred ownership of the property to a government-authorized offshoot, which said it severed ties with the broader movement.  The Ministry of Social Development’s committee in charge of the JMB’s legal dissolution announced on December 21, 2020, that the Court of Cassation’s final decision declaring the JMB officially dissolved had been implemented and directed any creditors to address financial or legal claims on the JMB to the ministry.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Converts to Islam from Christianity continued to report security officials questioning them regarding their religious beliefs and practices, as well as some instances of surveillance, as part of the government’s effort to prevent nominal conversions of convenience for the purpose of receiving advantageous divorce or inheritance benefits.  Likewise, some converts to Christianity from Islam reported instances of harassment by security officials, in-person and electronic surveillance, and bureaucratic delays or rejections of document requests, including passport applications.  Others reported security forces pressured converts to denounce their conversions and to recite Quranic verses in their offices.  Christian converts belonging to unregistered denominations described personal accounts of being summoned to security forces offices on several consecutive days, putting their jobs at risk.  Christians converts from larger Jordanian tribes with more supportive families tended to avoid some of the more extreme examples of scrutiny.  Some converts to Christianity from Islam reported they continued to worship in secret to avoid scrutiny by security officials.  Because of the sharia ban on conversion, government officials generally refused to change the religion listed on official documents from Islam to any other religion.  Accordingly, the converts’ religious practice did not match their official religion, opening them up to claims of apostasy and personal status issues involving marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

During the year, the government Media Commission banned distribution of 15 books for insulting Islam, five for insulting Christianity, and 19 for “unethical” content, including books that contained sexual content without caveating for age and “promoting homosexuality.”  The commission banned 20 books in 2020.

Members of religious groups unable to obtain religious divorces converted to another Christian denomination or to Islam to divorce legally, according to reports from religious leaders and the MOJ.  The chief of the OSJ continued to ensure that Christians wanting to convert to Islam did not have a pending divorce case at one of the Christian religious courts to prevent them from converting for the sole purpose of obtaining a legal divorce.  The OSJ continued to enforce the interview requirement for converts to Islam, introduced in 2017, to determine whether their conversion reflected a genuine religious belief.

Youth Sub-Committee Member Wafa al-Khadra resigned from the Royal Committee for the Modernization of the Political System in July after she critiqued Eid al-Adha sacrifice practices, saying theses rituals “lacked mercy.”  Social media users called for her resignation, calling her a “heretic” and stating her comments insulted Islam.  Al-Khadra said her statement had been taken out of context and clarified that some individuals sacrificed sheep in an inhumane way.  A public prosecutor declined to proceed with an apostasy complaint lodged against al-Khadra.

As part of its COVID-19 pandemic response, the government instituted defense orders and ordered periodic comprehensive lockdowns, including places of worship, on Fridays, and daily curfews from October 2020 to April 2021.  The government intermittently allowed Muslim worshippers to walk to their local mosques for Friday prayers when driving was prohibited.  Protesters throughout the year demanded the government ease restrictions on congregational prayers at mosques.  Muslim religious leaders wrote a letter in March to the King requesting permission to perform group prayers in mosques, while others expressed support for the government’s efforts to combat the pandemic.  In March, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Awqaf said the ministry’s decision to suspend Friday prayers aimed to preserve human life and complied with Islamic laws.  Greek Orthodox Bishop Christophoros Atallah, in his capacity as CCL President, also affirmed during a March press conference that worshippers should remain committed to the government’s efforts to combat the pandemic.  After the government decided to reopen all sectors in September, mosques partially opened, on the conditions that adherents comply with crowd-size mandates.  Worshippers accused the government of having double standards when applying defense orders, since it allowed large gatherings of individuals for concerts, while preventing in-person worship.  Churches reported they continued to meet online and in person except during periods of general lockdown.  According to RIIFS, 58 percent of respondents supported the government’s decision to close places of worship for health and safety purposes during the pandemic, 27 percent opposed the closures, and 15 percent were neutral.

The same RIIFS survey found 24 percent of respondents believed government closures affected Muslim women’s freedom of worship, since they were not allowed to participate in Friday prayers at mosques, while 49 percent did not believe the closures affected women’s ability to worship.  When polled by RIIFS, 43 percent of the country’s religious experts viewed the decision to prevent women from attending Friday prayers as discriminatory, while 39 percent said the decision did not discriminate between men and women, on the grounds that Friday prayers were only obligatory for men under the experts’ interpretation of sharia.  At year’s end, women were still not allowed to attend Friday prayers.

Muslim and Christian leaders worked with the government to raise awareness regarding the pandemic during Friday and Sunday sermons, according to RIIFS.  The Ministry of Awqaf used social media to publish statements on the significance of helping others, donating to relief funds, and following government measures.  Religious charitable societies distributed health supplies and food to citizens around the country.  Religious leaders also preached about the importance of vaccines during the government’s rollout.

The Ministry of Awqaf continued to monitor sermons at mosques and required that preachers refrain from political commentary not approved by the government.  Authorities continued to disseminate themes and required imams to choose from a list of recommended texts for sermons.  Imams violating these rules risked being fined or banned from preaching.

Unofficial mosques continued to operate outside Ministry of Awqaf control in many cities, and imams outside of government employment preached without ministry supervision.  Ministry of Awqaf investigations uncovered some unregistered imams leading prayers in mosques during the year.  In these cases, the government ordered all attendees and imams to cease their activities and gather in a designated mosque in their area for the Friday sermons led by a registered imam.  Friday prayers in major cities were consolidated into central mosques, over which the Ministry of Awqaf had more oversight, continuing a process that began in 2018.  The ministry allowed smaller mosques to continue Friday sermons along with their areas’ central mosque.

On January 26, Greek Orthodox Bishop Christophoros Atallah, in his capacity as CCL President, sent a letter to the Judicial Council and Royal Court requesting they refer all Christian PSL cases to the CCL instead of to civil courts.  Atallah’s letter said adherents of unrecognized Christian denominations used the civil courts to enter into “illegal marriages” and “gain legitimization” by bypassing the CCL.  Judicial Council Chief Justice Mohammad al-Ghazo subsequently issued a memorandum on February 5 requiring Christians to use the CCL for PSL cases.  Evangelical Christian church leaders expressed concern regarding their ability to function as churches, and in early March, after lobbying by the evangelical churches, the Judicial Council retracted its order and convoked a meeting with Christian leaders to resolve the dispute.  Evangelicals said they had been specifically targeted because the CCL and government officials viewed them negatively, associating their religious groups with proselytization and U.S.-based, pro-Israel evangelical denominations.

Authorities continued to deny a license to an unrecognized Christian church to operate a publishing house and approval for a private Baptist school in the city of Zarqa.

During the year, expatriate religious volunteers from the evangelical Christian community continued to report bureaucratic delays in the renewal of residency permits and what they termed occasionally arbitrary rejections of paperwork.  In 2018, the government began enforcing a new residency policy to limit the ability of churches to sponsor religious volunteers for residency.  Observers suggested that the volunteers were illegally proselytizing Muslims.  Authorities previously allowed the churches to obtain residency status for religious volunteers with the approval of the MOI and a letter of sponsorship from the church.  Volunteers were required to obtain additional approvals, including from the Ministry of Labor, lengthening the average renewal process by several months, according to church officials.  Some expatriate religious volunteers reported the government refused to grant residency permission, forcing them to depart the country.

The government policy of not recognizing the Baha’i Faith continued, but the government continued to allow Baha’is to privately practice their religion and included them in officially sponsored interfaith events.  Sharia courts and the courts of other recognized religions continued not to issue Baha’is the marriage certificates required to transfer citizenship to a foreign spouse or to register for government health insurance and social security.  The Department of Civil Status and Passports also continued not to recognize marriages conducted by Baha’i assemblies, but it issued family books to Baha’is, allowing them to register their children, except in cases of marriages between a Baha’i man and a Baha’i woman when the marriage was erroneously registered as Muslim.  In those cases, the children were considered illegitimate and were not issued birth certificates or included in family books and subsequently were unable to obtain citizenship or register for school.  The Baha’is were able to obtain some documents such as marriage certificates through the civil courts, although they reportedly were required to pay fees that sometimes amounted to more than 500 dinars ($710) for documents normally available for five dinars ($7) through religious courts.  Some Baha’is traveled to other countries to obtain officially recognized marriages and others sought marriages from sympathetic Muslim clergy, a process that Baha’is deemed unsustainable and unacceptable.  Members of the Baha’i community stated that they continued to lobby the government unsuccessfully for recognition.

In an article that detailed the problems facing the foreign-born wives in Baha’i families, the news website Middle East Monitor stated that these women seeking to become naturalized citizens, as allowed by the country’s laws, were unable to do so because of the government did not recognize the Baha’i Faith and the government did not issue marriage certificates to Baha’i couples.  As a result, the women faced limited options in employment, career, education, and travel outside the country.

There continued to be two recognized cemeteries registered in the name of the Baha’i Faith through a special arrangement previously agreed between the group and the government.  Baha’i leaders reported they continued to be unable to register other properties under the name of the Baha’i Faith but remained able to register property under the names of individual Baha’is.  In doing so, the Baha’i leaders said they continued to have to pay new registration fees whenever they transferred property from one person to another at the death of the registered owner, a process that created a large financial burden.  Baha’i leaders said they were using the civil courts to challenge their group’s property registration restrictions, stating they were unable to legally protect Baha’i assets if individuals who registered Baha’i property under their names decided to misappropriate funds or property.  The Baha’i community’s request for religious exemptions for property registration fees remained pending.

The government continued to deny official recognition to other religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Some unrecognized religious groups reported they continued to operate schools and hospitals and were able to hold services and meetings if they maintained a low profile.  Some unregistered Christian denominations said that although all religious groups were equal in the eyes of the constitution, the government practiced favoritism toward specific Christian groups that had more political power, which increased tensions among these religious groups.

In early December, the Director of the Public Security Directorate, Major General Hussein al-Hawatmeh, announced an increase in security force presence in Christian areas and public areas decorated for the holidays throughout the month.  Christian leaders expressed their appreciation to the authorities for protecting churches and Christian spaces during the holidays.

The government authorized Christian civil servants leave for Sunday worship and religious holidays.

Religious minorities, including Christians and Druze, continued to serve in parliament and as cabinet ministers.  Members of religious minorities served as deputy prime ministers, senators, members of parliament (MPs), and ambassadors.  The cabinet appointed in October included one Druze member and two Christian members, unchanged from the previous cabinet.  A Christian MP served as House Second Deputy Speaker for parliament’s 2020-21 and 2021-22 terms.

The government continued to record Druze as Muslims on civil documents identifying the bearer’s religious affiliation, without public objection from the Druze.  Druze continued to report discrimination, and the way constituencies were geographically distributed hindered their coreligionists from reaching high positions in government civil service and official departments.  The government did not include members of the Druze community in the Political Modernization Committee, established by the King in June to reform the political system, despite the committee’s assurances that it would consider the country’s demographics and to include representation from all facets of society.

Christians and Druze achieved general officer rank in the military, but Muslims continued to hold most of the senior positions across the security and intelligence services.

The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust, but some private schools included it in their curricula.  An Anti-Defamation League study found examples of antisemitic tropes in public school textbooks, including a passage that says, “Treason and the breaking of pacts are among the characteristics of the Jews.”  Another textbook, used for 12th grade history, described the Zionist movement as “a racist, settler political movement aimed at establishing a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine, founded on historical claims without basis in truth,” and said that Jewish links to Jerusalem are “founded on historical and religious claims without any actual grounds on which to base them.”

Christian leaders reported many Jordanians believed Christianity arrived in the country during the Crusades due in part, said the leaders, to the national secondary school curriculum’s practice of not teaching Jordan’s pre-Islamic history nor acknowledging that there was a Christian presence in the region prior to the rise of Islam.

Members of non-Muslim religious groups, especially unregistered groups, continued to report occasional threats by the government to arrest them for disrupting public order if they proselytized Muslims.  Security officials continued to refuse to renew residency permits for some foreign religious leaders and religious volunteers after raising concerns their activities could incite extremist attacks, according to multiple nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  Others were denied residency permits on the basis of proselytization accusations.

Christian groups that maintained a lower profile noted examples of security forces monitoring them only when other Christian denominations submitted official complaints against them.

The government deemed some children, including children of unmarried women or interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion, “illegitimate” and denied them standard registration.  The government issued these children, as well as orphans, special national identification numbers, which made it difficult for these children to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation.

In June, the Bible Society of Jordan posted a verse from the Book of Psalms, Psalms 37:11 – “The meek shall inherit the earth” – on city entrances and bridges in Amman, an annual practice to honor Jordan’s Independence Day.  The banners sparked widespread controversy; several social media users posted antisemitic commentary equating the Book of Psalms only with Judaism and the promotion of Zionism.  MP Hasan Riyati sent a request to the House Speaker to investigate the “authorities that licensed a Torah verse to be hung around the city in a country whose religion is Islam and whose main enemy is the Zionists.”  The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) subsequently removed the banners and issued a statement saying it would not allow anyone to post statements that violate public morals.  Christians and some Muslims criticized the GAM’s statement, arguing the verse was in line with public morals.  Others saw the controversy as an opportunity to educate the public, explaining the verse was found in the holy books of both Christians and Jews and that the Quran contained a similar verse.  GAM Mayor Yousef Shawarbeh met with Christian leaders to offer an apology; he removed the GAM statement from official media but did not reinstall the banners.  Christian youth groups held a protest outside the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate offices, saying the government’s apology was insufficient.  Many citizens asked the government to take concrete actions against hate speech and against those who did not respect the religious freedom of Christians in the country.

In December, MP Suleiman Abu Yahya stated the Jews attempted to “poison” the Prophet Muhammad and “would not hesitate to poison Jordanians” during a parliamentary hearing on Project Prosperity, a planned energy-for-water project involving Jordan, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.

In September, parliament approved legislation to develop public lands adjacent to the Jordanian side of the Jordan River identified by some scholars as Jesus’s baptism site, which some MPs said would promote religious tourism, support local communities, and provide job opportunities.  The law would also establish a nonprofit charitable foundation supervised by a Board of Trustees, appointed by the Royal Hashemite Court, and would grant fee and tax exemptions.  Christian leaders largely supported the law, noting it would deepen church connections around the world as pilgrims travelled to the country, and it would supplement the national economy.

Throughout the year, RIIFS, established under the patronage of Prince Hassan bin Talal, organized periodic discussions and sponsored initiatives with religious leaders and social activists to promote political pluralism, cultural diversity, religious tolerance, and civic responsibility in the country and throughout the region.  It also held comparative religion seminars on Muslim and Christian doctrinal teachings.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Converts from Islam to Christianity reported continued social ostracism, threats, and physical and verbal abuse, including beatings, insults, and intimidation, from family members, neighbors, and community or tribal members.  Some reported they worshipped in secret because of the social stigma they faced as converts, while others reported persistent threats of violence from family members protecting traditional honor.  According to international NGOs, female converts from Islam were particularly vulnerable to harassment and pressure to renounce their conversions.  Church leaders continued to report incidents of violence, pressure, and discrimination against religious converts and persons in interfaith romantic relationships; the latter continued to report ostracism and, in some cases, feuds among family members and violence toward those involved.  Some converts from Islam expressed interest in resettlement abroad due to discrimination and threats of violence.  Converts from Christianity to Islam also reported social stigma from their families and Christian society.  Christian women married to Muslim men were more often stigmatized.  Nonbelievers reported societal intolerance and discrimination.  Although an individual’s religion was no longer written on identification cards, one’s religion could often be surmised based on personal and family names.

Religious leaders reported continuing online hate speech, frequently through social media, directed towards religious minorities and those who advocated religious moderation.  One NGO reported increased online hate speech towards the Christian community in direct response to radio and internet broadcasts of local services to the local Christian community.  This NGO turned off comments on websites and blocked repeat offenders on its social media accounts in an effort to avoid hate speech.  Religious broadcasts were an alternative to regular in-person services, which were not allowed when the country was under periodic comprehensive lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  NGO sources said the negative responses were the reactions of Muslims to their first real exposure to Christianity.  NGOs disagreed on the prevalence of hate speech in local society.  One NGO worried about calls from the local community to criminalize hate speech in new laws or amendments, believing it would lead to selective application of the law.

Some religious leaders privately associated hate speech, intolerance, and extremism with poverty and lack of educational opportunities in the country.

Criticism online and in social media continued to target converts from Islam to other religions.  Religious minorities expressed concerns that some Muslim leaders preached intolerance.  Christians reported they self-segregated into Christian enclaves in Amman and its outskirts to escape social pressure and threats.  Although Christians clustered in specific neighborhoods and sought life abroad for safety and community support, Christian leaders stated it was difficult to categorize the desire to relocate solely based on religious identity; Christians relocated to the cities and moved abroad seeking economic opportunities as well.

Observers reported friction between Christian denominations on the CCL and evangelical churches not recognized by the government.  Leaders from some CCL-affiliated churches said there were “recruitment efforts” and “hidden agendas” against their members and Jordanian society writ large by evangelical churches, and that evangelical churches were disrupting interfaith harmony, creating rifts in local society and undermining the CCL’s relationship with the government and security services.  CCL leaders stated they worried that outsiders “causing trouble” would bring unwanted attention on the Christian community.  Members of the evangelical community said that some CCL leaders applied pressure on the government to not recognize evangelical churches in the country.

In an April Yarmouk TV broadcast, a University of Jordan professor, Ahmad Nofal, accused Jews of “ruling the world” and stated there was no differentiation between “Zionists” and “Jews.”  He also accused Zionists of purposefully harvesting organs and infecting Palestinians with diseases.  In November, Nofal asked on Yarmouk TV, “Do the Europeans love the Jews that much?…They want to dump them on us….Instead of doing what Hitler did – massacring and burning and whatever – they dump them on the Middle East.”

In April, Jordanian analyst Mohammed Faraj, on Lebanon’s Mayadeen TV, denounced a Holocaust memorial ceremony held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), saying that commemorating the Holocaust was a UAE attempt to cover up the real massacres perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians.  He said it was a “Zionist strategic policy” to focus on only six million of the 42 million who were killed in World War II.

In May, former MP Saud Abu Mahfouz, in a video posted to YouTube, said that Jews are “bastards [who have] all the money of [Irving] Moskowitz, of Rothschild, and of Sheldon Adelson.”  With their “deeds [and] filth…[Jews] are provoking the Islamic identity.”

When criticizing Israeli government policies in November, Roya TV, a privately owned, Amman-based satellite channel, published a cartoon on social media that appeared to show Lord Balfour and a Jewish man wearing a kippah and holding the map of Israel and Palestinian territories in a police lineup.  Also in November, Roya posted a video with an exaggerated reenactment of an Orthodox Jew when discussing an energy-for-water deal between Jordan, the UAE, and Israel.  In December, the German broadcaster DW suspended a 10-year-old partnership with Roya over “the discovery of anti-Israeli and antisemitic comments and caricatures in social media disseminated” by Roya.  A senior DW executive apologized for overlooking “these disgusting images.”  In response, Roya’s CEO said that “criticism of illegal, inhuman, or racist actions by Israel as a state” should be distinguished from antisemitism.

A Christian boxer’s death sparked criticism online in April after some individuals sent their condolences to his family using the phrase, “May God have mercy on him.”  Some individuals criticized those offering condolences, claiming mercy should be reserved only for Muslims.

In July, the Religion News Service reported on a debate in the country over the possibility of opening up to Shia pilgrims, long discouraged from visiting the tombs of the relatives of the Prophet Muhammad, most prominently Jafar, Muhammad’s cousin and the brother of Ali, the first leader of Shia Islam.  Zaid Nabulsi, a lawyer and prodemocracy advocate, first made the suggestion in a Facebook post, noting that most of the sites of interest to Shia pilgrims are in the impoverished southern part of the country.  Government officials said no change in policy was being considered.

The Catholic Center for Studies and the international Muslim Council of Elders, based in Abu Dhabi, organized a conference in Amman in September, “Media Against Hate.”  More than 100 Arab media professionals attended the meeting, which was sponsored by Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed.  Attendees discussed the use of legacy and social media in spreading and countering hate speech.  Religious leaders expressed skepticism regarding officially and unofficially organized interfaith conferences in the country, saying such conferences did not increase intercommunal harmony and were often a facade for the West.

In a poll published by RIIFS that included 400 Muslims, 83 Christians, and nine individuals identified as “other,” 83 percent of respondents agreed all worshippers should have equal rights to practice their religion regardless of cultural, social, and religious backgrounds, and any discrimination in this regard should be considered a human rights violation; 7 percent disagreed; and 10 percent were neutral.  In the same study, 74 percent said that religious rites were practiced freely in the country and that it had appropriate legislation allowing freedom of worship.

In a poll conducted by a Dubai-based public relations firm in June and involving a team of international experts, 57 percent of the country’s citizens between the ages of 18 and 24 agreed that religion was “the most important” factor to their personal identity, compared with 34 percent overall for youth polled in the 17 Arab states included in the survey.  Only one other state included in the survey had a larger percentage of respondents agreeing with this response.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officers, including the Ambassador, continued to engage with government officials at all levels, including the Minister of Awqaf, Grand Mufti, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, and senior officials at the Royal Hashemite Court, to advocate for the rights of religious minorities, the protection of cultural resources, and interfaith tolerance.

Embassy officers continued to meet frequently with representatives of religious communities, including unrecognized groups, religious converts, expatriate religious volunteers, and interfaith institutions such as RIIFS and the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, to discuss issues related to religious freedom.

The embassy continued to advise the government’s Baptism Site Commission on its efforts to increase revenue from religiously based tourism, create jobs, preserve the country’s religious heritage, and highlight religious pluralism.  The embassy used social media to promote religious tolerance and mark religious holidays, including through posting video messages, which generally received positive responses from social media audiences.


Executive Summary

The constitution states that all individuals have the right to 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 Law on Belief and Religion (LBR) maintains a multistage registration and recognition process for religious groups.  Some religious leaders, particularly those representing groups that either did not request or receive official recognition or certificates of registration, reported various forms of government harassment, including physical assaults, detentions, prosecutions, monitoring, and denials of, or no response to, requests for registration and other permissions.  Some civil society organizations reported severe crackdowns on members of unregistered groups, particularly in the Central Highlands.  Religious freedom activists said local authorities approved registration applications based more on religious groups’ perspective on politics than on religious doctrine.  Authorities did not recognize any new religious organizations during the year.  Many religious leaders across the country reported improving conditions compared with prior years, such as better relations between unregistered religious groups and local authorities and a reduction in aggressive forms of harassment.  Members of recognized groups or those with certificates of registration said they were generally able to practice their beliefs with less government interference.  Members of some religious groups continued to report that some local and provincial authorities used noncompliance with the required registration procedures 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 did not hold any government official accountable for failure to follow legal deadlines and written registration notification requirements as stated in the LBR.

There were reports of conflicts, at times violent, between members of unregistered and registered or recognized religious groups or between believers and nonbelievers.  Religious activists blamed authorities for “manipulating” recognized religious groups and accused their agents or proxies of causing conflicts in order to suppress the activities of unregistered groups.

The U.S. Ambassador and other senior embassy and consulate general officials regularly urged authorities to allow members of all religious groups to operate freely.  They sought reduced levels of government intervention in the affairs of recognized and registered religious groups and urged an end to restrictions on, and harassment of, groups without recognition or registration.  They stressed to government officials that progress on religious freedom and human rights was critical to an improved bilateral relationship.  The Ambassador, the Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, and other senior U.S. government and embassy officers advocated for religious freedom in visits across the country, including to the Mekong River Delta and Central Vietnam.  With the Government Committee on Religious Affairs (GCRA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and provincial and local authorities, embassy and consulate general officials raised specific cases of abuses, as well as of government harassment, against Catholics; Protestant groups, including independent Pentecostal groups; the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV); independent Hoa Hao groups; independent Cao Dai groups; and ethnic minority house churches such as the Duong Van Minh group.  U.S. government officials called for the increased registration of church congregations around the country and for improvement in registration policies by making them more uniform and transparent, and they urged the government to peacefully resolve outstanding land rights disputes with religious groups.  U.S. government officials also called for unfettered access to religious materials by prisoners.  The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met with religious leaders of both registered and unregistered religious groups and attended religious ceremonies to demonstrate support for religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 102 million (midyear 2021).  The government’s 2019 National Population and Housing Census reported approximately 13 million religious adherents, accounting for 14 percent of the total population.  The census noted Roman Catholics represented the largest number of adherents, with six million followers, accounting for 45 percent of the total number of believers nationwide and 6 percent of the overall population.  The census, which recorded only Buddhists formally registered with the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS) showed them as the second largest religious group, accounting for five million followers, or 35 percent of the total number of religious adherents nationwide, and 5 percent of the overall population.

According to the census data, VBS membership decreased from nearly seven million in 2009 to approximately five million in 2019.  The VBS noted that this number did not account for potentially tens of millions of others who believe in and observe Buddhist practices to various degrees without formal participation in a registered Buddhist religious group.  The GCRA estimates the number of Buddhist followers is more than 10 million.  Within the Buddhist community, Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant affiliation of the Kinh (Viet) ethnic majority, while approximately 1 percent of the total population, almost all from the ethnic minority Khmer group, practices Theravada Buddhism.

According to the census, Protestants were the third largest group, with nearly one million followers, accounting for 7 percent of the total number of believers nationwide and 1 percent of the overall population.  The census results contrast with January 2018 statistics released by the GCRA in which 26 percent of the population was categorized as religious believers participating in registered activities, with 15 percent of the population Buddhist, 7 percent Catholic, 2 percent Hoa Hao Buddhist, 1 percent Cao Dai, and 1 percent Protestant.  GCRA officials, however, estimated 90 percent of the population followed some sort of faith tradition, registered or otherwise.  According to observers, many religious adherents chose not to make their religious affiliation public for fear of adverse consequences, resulting in substantial discrepancies among various estimates.

According to government statistics, the total number of religious adherents reportedly decreased by roughly 2.5 million and the ratio of religious adherents dropped from more than 18 percent to 14 percent of the total population between the 2009 and 2019 censuses.  Catholics and Protestants saw increases in membership, while Buddhists and religious groups based on local traditions saw a declining number of adherents, according to census data.  Anecdotal reporting from provincial VBS, Catholic, and Protestant leaders, however, indicated membership in all religious traditions continued to grow.

Smaller religious groups combined constitute less than 0.16 percent of the population and include Hindus (mostly an estimated 70,000 ethnic Cham in the south-central coastal area); approximately 80,000 Muslims scattered throughout the country (approximately 40 percent are Sunni, and 60 percent practice Bani Islam); an estimated 3,000 members of the Baha’i Faith; and approximately 1,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).  Religious groups originating in the country (Buu Son Ky Huong, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, and Phat Giao Hieu Nghia Ta Lon) comprise a total of 0.34 percent of the population.  A small, mostly foreign, Jewish population resides in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.  National statistics on religious adherents from the GCRA and the Vietnam Fatherland Front, an umbrella group for government-affiliated organizations under the guidance of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), are considered less comprehensive, as they do not account for members of unregistered religious groups.

Other individuals have no religious affiliation or practice animism or the veneration of ancestors, tutelary and protective saints, national heroes, or local, respected persons.  Many individuals blend traditional practices with religious teachings, particularly Buddhism and Christianity.  Research institutions, including the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, estimate there are approximately 100 “new religions,” mostly in the North and Central Highlands.

Ethnic minorities constitute approximately 14 percent of the population.  Based on adherents’ estimates, two-thirds of Protestants are members of ethnic minorities, including groups in the Northwest Highlands (H’mong, Dzao, Thai, and others) and in the Central Highlands (Ede, Jarai, Sedang, and M’nong, among others).  The Khmer Krom ethnic group overwhelmingly practices Theravada Buddhism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion, including the freedom to follow no religion.  The constitution acknowledges the right to freedom of religion or belief of those whose rights are limited, including inmates or any foreigners and stateless persons.  It states all religions are equal before the law and the state must respect and protect freedom of belief and religion.  The constitution prohibits citizens from violating the freedom of belief and religion or taking advantage of a belief or religion to violate the law.

The LBR and implementing Decree 162 serve as the primary documents governing religious groups and their activities.  The LBR reiterates citizens’ rights to freedom of belief and religion and states that individuals may not use the right of belief and religious freedom to undermine peace, national independence, and unification; incite violence or propagate wars; proselytize in contravention of the state’s laws and policies; divide people, nationalities, or religions; cause public disorder; infringe upon the life, health, dignity, honor, or property of others; impede the exercise of civic rights and performance of civic obligations; or conduct “superstitious activities” or otherwise violate the law.

The government recognizes 38 religious organizations that affiliate with 16 distinct religious “traditions,” as defined by the government:  Buddhism, Islam, the Baha’i Faith, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Cao Dai, Buu Son Ky Huong, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Phat Duong Nam Tong Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao Tam Tong Mieu, Cham Brahmanism, Hieu Nghia Ta Lon Buddhism, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Distinct denominations within these religious traditions must seek their own registration and/or recognition.  Five additional groups – the Assemblies of God, Ta Lon Dutiful and Loyal Buddhism, Vietnam Full Gospel Church, Vietnam United Gospel Outreach Church, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Vietnam – have “registrations for religious operation” but are not recognized as official organizations.

The law specifies that recognized religious organizations and their affiliates are noncommercial legal entities.  The law also stipulates that religious organizations are allowed to conduct educational, health, social protection, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with relevant laws.  The government does not allow unauthorized organizations to raise funds or distribute aid without seeking approval and registration from authorities.

The GCRA, one of 18 “ministerial units” under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), is responsible for implementing religious laws and decrees; it maintains offices at the central, provincial, and, in some areas, district levels.  The law lays out specific responsibilities for central-, provincial-, and local-level GCRA offices and delegates certain religion-related management tasks to provincial- and local-level people’s committees (i.e., local leaders).  The central-level GCRA is charged with disseminating information to authorities and assuring uniform compliance with the legal framework on religion at the provincial, district, commune, and village levels.

The law prohibits forcing others to follow or renounce a religion or belief.

Military conscription is universal and mandatory for males between 18 and 25 years of age, although there are exceptions.  None of the exceptions is related to religious belief.

The law requires individuals to register religious activities with communal authorities where the “lawful premises for the religious practice is based,” and it prescribes two stages of institutionalization for religious organizations seeking to gather at a specified location to “practice worship rituals, pray, or express their religious faith.”  The first stage is “registration for religious operation” with the provincial- or national-level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the group’s activities.  Registration for religious operation allows a group to organize religious ceremonies and religious practice; preach and conduct religious classes at approved locations; elect, appoint, or designate officials; repair or renovate headquarters; engage in charitable or humanitarian activities; and organize congresses to approve its charter.  To obtain registration, the group must submit a detailed application with information about its doctrine, history, bylaws, leaders, and members, as well as proof it has a legal meeting location.  The relevant provincial GCRA office or the MHA – depending on whether the group in question is operating in one or more provinces – is responsible for approving a valid application for registration within 60 days of receipt.  The law requires the relevant provincial GCRA office or the MHA to provide any rejection in writing.

The second stage of institutionalization is recognition.  A religious group may apply for recognition after it has operated continuously for at least five years following the date it received approval of its “registration for religious operation.”  A religious group is required to have a legal charter and bylaws, leaders in good standing without criminal records, and to have managed assets and conducted transactions autonomously.  To obtain recognition, a group must submit a detailed application to the provincial- or national-level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the organization.  The application must include a written request specifying the group’s structure, membership, geographical scope of operation and headquarters location; a summary of its history, dogmas, canon laws, and rites; a list and the resumes, judicial records, and summaries of the religious activities of the organization’s representative and tentative leaders; the group’s charter; a declaration of the organization’s lawful assets; and proof of lawful premises to serve as a headquarters.  The relevant provincial people’s committee or the MHA is responsible for approving a valid application for recognition within 60 days of receipt.  The law requires the relevant provincial people’s committee or MHA to provide any rejection in writing.  Recognition allows the religious group to conduct religious activities in accordance with the organization’s charter; organize religious practice; publish religious texts, books, and other publications; produce, export, and import religious cultural products and religious articles; renovate, upgrade, or construct new religious establishments; and receive lawful donations from domestic and foreign sources, among other rights.

The law states religious organizations and their affiliates, clergy, and believers may file complaints or civil and administrative lawsuits against government officials or agencies under the relevant laws and decrees.  The law also states religious organizations and individuals have the right to bring civil lawsuits in court regarding the actions of religious groups or believers.  There were no analogous provisions in previous laws.

Under the law, a religious organization is defined as “a religious group that has received legal recognition” by authorities.  The law provides a separate process for unregistered, unrecognized religious groups to receive permission for specific religious activities by applying to the commune-level people’s committee.  Regulations require the people’s committee to respond in writing to an application within 20 working days of receipt.  The law specifies that a wide variety of religious activities requires advance approval or registration from authorities at the central and/or local levels.  These activities include “belief activities” (defined as traditional communal practices of ancestor, hero, or folk worship); “belief festivals” held for the first time; the establishment, division, or merger of religious affiliates; the ordination, appointment, or assignment of religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); establishment of religious training facilities; conducting religious training classes; holding major religious congresses; organizing religious events, preaching or evangelizing outside of approved locations; traveling abroad to conduct religious activities or training; and joining a foreign religious organization.

Certain religious activities do not need advance approval but instead require notification to the appropriate authorities.  Activities requiring notification include recurring or periodic “belief festivals”; dismissing clergy; conducting fundraising activities; reporting enrollment figures at a seminary or religious school; repairing or renovating religious facilities not considered cultural-historical relics; ordaining, appointing, or assigning religious clergy (such as monks); transferring or dismissing religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); conducting operations at an approved religious training facility; conducting routine religious activities (defined as “religious preaching, practicing religious tenets and rites, and management of a religious organization”); and holding the internal conferences of a religious organization.

The law provides prisoners access to religious counsel as well as religious materials, with conditions, while in detention.  It reserves authority for the government to restrict the “assurance” of that right.  Decree 162 states detainees may use religious documents that are legally published and circulated, in line with legal provisions on custody, detention, prison, and other types of confinement.  Prisoner access to religious counsel and materials must not, however, affect the rights of others to freedom of religion and belief or nonbelief or contravene other relevant laws.  The decree states the Ministries of Public Security, Defense, and Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs shall be responsible for providing guidelines on the management of religious documents and the time and venue for the use of these documents.

The law specifies that religious organizations must follow numerous other laws for certain activities.  Religious organizations may conduct educational, health, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with the law, but the law does not provide clarification as to which activities are permitted.  In addition, construction or renovation of religious facilities must occur in accordance with laws and regulations on construction, and foreigners participating in religious activities must abide by immigration laws.

Publishing, producing, exporting, or importing religious texts must occur in accordance with laws and regulations related to publishing.  Legislation requires all publishers be licensed public entities or state-owned enterprises.  Publishers must receive prior government approval to publish all documents, including religious texts.  By decree, only the Religious Publishing House may publish religious books, although this is not enforced in all cases.  Any bookstore may sell legally published religious texts and other religious materials.

The constitution states the government owns and manages all land on behalf of the people.  According to the law, land use by religious organizations must conform to the land law and its related decrees.  The land law recognizes that licensed religious institutions and schools may acquire land-use rights and lease or be allocated land.  The law specifies religious institutions are eligible for state compensation if their land is seized under eminent domain.  The law allows provincial-level people’s committees to seize land via eminent domain to facilitate the construction of religious facilities.  Under the law, provincial-level people’s committees may grant land use certificates for a “long and stable term” to religious institutions if they have permission to operate, the land is dispute-free, and the land was not acquired via transfer or donation after July 1, 2004.

Religious institutions are not permitted to exchange, transfer, lease, donate, or mortgage their land-use rights.  In land disputes involving a religious institution, the chairperson of the provincial-level people’s committee has authority to settle disputes.  Parties may dispute the chairperson’s decision by appealing to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment or filing a lawsuit in court.

In practice, if a religious organization has not obtained recognition, members of the congregation may acquire a land-use title individually.

The renovation or upgrade of facilities owned by religious groups requires notification to authorities, although it does not necessarily require a permit, depending on the extent of the renovation.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public and private schools.  This prohibition extends to private schools run by religious organizations.

There are separate provisions of the law that permit foreigners legally residing in the country to request permission to conduct religious activities, teach, attend local religious training, or preach in local religious institutions.  The law requires religious organizations or citizens to receive government permission in advance of hosting or conducting any religious activities involving foreign organizations, foreign individuals, or travel abroad.  Regulations also contain requirements for foreigners conducting religious activities within the country, including those involved in religious training, ordination, and leadership, to seek permission for their activities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported cases of government officials physically abusing individuals from religious minority groups, particularly ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands and Northern Highlands, although it was not clear the reported cases were related to religious affiliation.  In the Northwest and Northern Highlands, leaders representing both registered and unregistered religious groups said authorities increasingly used nonviolent or less aggressive means, for example, inviting representatives to tea or offering to pay for property repairs, to pressure them to comply with government demands, including seeking registration and ceasing illegal gatherings.  Because religion, ethnicity, and politics were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In December, authorities in Tuyen Quang Province detained at least 56 members of the ethnic Hmong Duong Van Minh group when they gathered to pay respects following the death of their founder and leader, Duong Van Minh.  Due to what authorities said was the mourners’ failure to comply with COVID-19 mitigation requirements and undergo testing following likely COVID-19 exposure, police raided Duong Van Minh’s home on December 12, where Hmong members had gathered.  Police, who had arrived in support of local health authorities, allegedly beat and arrested those who failed to comply with testing protocols.  According to government officials, however, the government worked with Duong Van Minh’s family to ensure COVID-19 testing of children who were present and to facilitate the funeral service in a relatively timely manner.  Government officials also said the mourners gathering at Duong Van Minh’s home exceeded the number of persons permitted to gather under COVID-19 mitigation restrictions and refused to submit to testing following the detection of confirmed COVID-19 cases.  Police reportedly forcibly held more than 36 followers incommunicado in several quarantine centers, where those detained reported police interrogated them for hours on their religious activities and threatened them to force them to renounce their faith, including through what some described as torture and beatings.  Others reported being held and beaten at police stations in Ham Yen District.  Several persons reported police “tortured” them until they signed confessions and other documents renouncing their faith and threatened them with extended detention in a quarantine center without the ability to communicate with family or friends if they refused.  At year’s end, 21 Duong Van Minh followers remained in detention.

Local authorities in some parts of the Central Highlands reportedly intimidated and threatened violence against members of certain unregistered Protestant groups that had reported human rights violations to international bodies or had attempted to force these groups’ members to recant their faith or join a registered religious organization.  Vietnamese security officers arrested and detained at least 21 individuals in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak on July 16.  All were released by July 18.  Many of those detained had participated in civil society training organized by a U.S.-based human rights NGO and were members of two ethnic minority Protestant churches, the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Vietnam Good News Mission Church, which had long been targeted by authorities.  At least one victim reported that police officers beat him during interrogations and threatened to kill him.  Some detainees also reported authorities told them that studying their rights under the LBR and constitution was illegal, and they reported that authorities threatened them in order to make them renounce their faith.

Government officials in different parts of the country reportedly continued to monitor, interrogate, arbitrarily detain, and discriminate against some individuals, at least in part because of their religious beliefs or affiliation.  The majority of the victims of the reported incidents were members of unregistered groups engaged in political or human rights advocacy activities or with ties to overseas individuals and organizations that were outspoken and critical of authorities.  There were several reports of local authorities banning, disrupting gatherings, and confiscating publications of new religious movements, such as Dang hoang thien cach mang the gioi dai dong (The Party of God’s Revolution for the Great Unity) in Dong Nai and Binh Phuoc Provinces, Tam Linh Ho Chi Minh (The Spirit of Ho Chi Minh) and Long Hoa Di Lac I (Followers of Maitreya Buddha) in Vinh Phuc Province, and in a number of cases arresting leaders and followers of other religious groups, such as Phap mon can khai vung tru luat lam chinh tam (The Dharma Door of Enlightening Universal Law and Unified Consciousness) in Kinh Mon town, Hai Duong Province.

According to reports from the NGO Boat People SOS (BPSOS), during the year local police in Dak Lak and Phu Yen Provinces questioned at least 30 members of the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ, Good News Mission Church, and International Degar Church at local police stations or their residences.  BPSOS stated that in some cases, local police forced individuals to report to police stations and then interrogated them for hours before releasing them without charges.  Authorities reportedly demanded those detained to cease affiliation with unregistered religious groups and refrain from providing “negative” reports to international organizations.  Local police in some cases demanded some religious adherents request permission from authorities prior to traveling outside of their communes.  Independent Cao Dai adherents similarly reported police harassed them to prevent them from participating in civil society events, including during a virtual Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief conference in December.

In September, Tien Giang Province authorities arrested three independent Cao Dai leaders and detained them for hours while questioning them about their religious activities.

There were multiple reports of government discrimination against individual religious believers and religious groups across the country.  Members of some religious groups whose members were poor or ethnic minorities continued to report that authorities denied them some of the legal benefits to which they were entitled.  The Vietnam Baptist Convention (VBC), an unregistered group, reported that few of its members received any pandemic-related assistance from government authorities, and a number reported difficulties obtaining COVID-19 vaccines when such assistance would have been routinely administered to local communities.  A VBC pastor in Hanoi reported difficulty acquiring a “land use right certificate” from local officials and said that his neighbors, who were not affiliated with a religious group, had no difficulty receiving a certificate.

Protestant and Catholic groups continued to say 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 group participation in health, education, and charitable activities.  Catholic representatives said the government refused to return hospitals, clinics, and schools it seized in 1954 and 1975.

On September 6, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh signed a decision assigning the portfolio of religious affairs and human rights issues to Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, the senior of four Deputy Prime Ministers.

According to the GCRA, in northern mountainous provinces, local authorities cumulatively granted registrations to nearly 800 local congregations, known as “meeting points,” and they recognized 14 local congregations, out of more than 1,600 local congregations.  The registrations and recognitions affected approximately 250,000 congregation members in total (of which 95 percent were ethnic minorities, mostly H’mong).  In the Central Highlands, local authorities granted registration to more than 1,400 local congregations and recognized 311 local congregations, together affecting nearly 584,000 congregation members.

The Ministry of Public Security estimated approximately 70 Protestant groups comprising nearly 200,000 members operated outside of the legal framework mandated by the LBR.  These groups neither sought nor received registration certificates or recognition during the year.

Authorities did not recognize any new religious organizations during the year.  The GCRA registered approximately 70 local congregations in 2020, to include four Protestant local congregations, approximately 50 Catholic parishes, and 12 Cao Dai local congregations.  Many unregistered religious groups continued to report that the registration of religious activities with local authorities remained difficult.  Some well-established and recognized religious groups such as the Catholic Church reported challenges in their efforts to establish new parishes in the Northwest Highlands.  Registered and unregistered religious groups continued to state that 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 as required by law.  In other cases, religious groups were unaware they had been granted local approval of religious activities.  Some local authorities reportedly requested documents or information beyond what was stipulated by law.  Several religious leaders said authorities sometimes solicited bribes to facilitate approvals.  Authorities attributed the delays and denials to the applicants’ failure to complete forms correctly or provide complete information.  Religious groups said the process of registering groups or notifying authorities of activities in new or remote locations was particularly difficult.  Some religious groups reported that authorities urged them to register as affiliates of recognized religious groups instead of as new groups.

GCRA officials stated that government officials assisted unregistered religious groups to navigate the bureaucratic procedures required for registration, using features such as an interactive portal on the GCRA website that allowed religious organizations to track the status of their document submissions.  The GCRA, however, acknowledged the web portal was not useful for remote religious groups that often lacked the technical skills to utilize the digital forms provided by the government.  The GCRA continued to provide provincial-level training to facilitate local registration of religious groups.

Local authorities continued to obstruct the assignment and transfer of religious leaders to unregistered local congregations, particularly those who were from other localities.  In several cases, local authorities harassed members of these unregistered local congregations.  The Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North (ECVN) reported the recognition of its local congregations was still time consuming, although many of them had been operating stably for many years without official confirmation of their registration and, from their perspective, had fully met the registration requirements.  According to the ECVN, authorities recognized 23 local congregations and granted registration to approximately 500 out of 1,200 local congregations and houses of worship (meeting points).  The ECVN reported it continued to experience difficulties obtaining registration of its meeting points with local authorities in Quang Binh and Nghe An Provinces.

At year’s end, the VBC was still awaiting the final results of a new approach, initiated in 2020, to register local congregations, in coordination with the GCRA.  Unlike earlier applications, in which representatives of local congregations completed the relevant paperwork for local authorities in relative isolation, the VBC chief pastor completed multiple registration packages under his name for submission to the GCRA.  The VBC said it submitted approximately 30-40 registration applications for local congregations in the Northwest Highlands in recent years under the old approach but was unable to verify the number of registration requests still pending.

Authorities required most, if not all, applicants seeking the registration of their religious operation or recognition of their organization to include in their applications language stating the religious organization would be in harmony with the nation and would serve the Vietnamese people.  For example, the Catholic Church used the slogan “Live the gospel amidst the nation,” while the VBS used “dharma, nation, and socialism.”  Religious groups continued to publicize the slogans after their registration and recognition.

According to local religious leaders, authorities continued to impose a rigid upper management structure on religious organizations.  According to religious community representatives, authorities preferred a two-level, top-down hierarchy to better control the religious organization and its affiliates through the religious group’s internal administrative structure.

For example, the Catholic Church reported that the authorities no longer recognized “sub-parishes,” as they had in the past.  As a result, the Church was required to establish full parishes, a lengthy and challenging process, or to register local congregations; the authorities did not recognize anything in between.  Under the old approach, sub-parish status gave a religious community more leeway than a local congregation on some issues.  A local congregation did not have the right to submit paperwork for the construction of religious facilities or for religious practice, example, but a sub-parish could submit that paperwork.

According to several Catholic bishops, parishes in remote areas or with majority ethnic minority populations continued to face difficulty registering with provincial authorities due to their inconsistent application of national laws.  Catholic leaders reported that 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 Son La, Lao Cai, and Yen Bai Provinces.

According to local religious leaders, Protestant groups also experienced authorities’ inconsistent interpretation and enforcement of the law when attempting to register their local congregations.  Local authorities in Dien Bien Province, for example, continued to deny the registration applications of an independent Pentecostal congregation in Noong Luong commune, Dien Bien District, Dien Bien Province, stating that the congregation was affiliated with an unrecognized religious group.  The Pentecostal group’s religious leader, however, said the law did not require a local congregation to be affiliated with a recognized organization to receive registration.  The leader also noted that members had practiced their faith at the local congregation for nearly 30 years before filing registration applications in April 2017.  Dien Bien authorities continued to deny registration of a group called Assembly of God of Vietnamese People (Hoi Thanh Phuc Am Ngu Tuan Nguoi Viet), reasoning that the applicant’s dogma was indistinguishable from that of the recognized Assembly of God of Vietnam (Giao hoi Phuc Am Ngu Tuan Viet Nam).

The VBC reported authorities did not register new local congregations in Thanh Hoa, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Hai Duong, and the Northwest Highlands.

Religious leaders reported that the central authorities continued to deny applications for the religious operation of several Protestant groups – Vietnam Baptist Convention (VBC), United Presbyterian Church in Vietnam, and the Full Gospel Church of Vietnam led by Pastor Ly Xuan Hoa.  Religious freedom advocates stated that the determining factor as to whether local authorities approved registration applications was more closely linked to the religious groups’ perspective on politics than on religious dogma.  The GCRA continued to deny public access to pending registration actions.

There were reports that local authorities denied new ID applications in which applicants identified their religion and that authorities ignored applicants’ expressed faith and labeled them “nonbelievers” or members of another religion.  VBS, however, reported that despite initial difficulties, it had resolved its ID problems by coordinating with authorities and was able to provide the relevant documentation to its members.

During the year, most religious ceremonies and services were cancelled or were conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  There were reports of authorities disrupting gatherings that violated pandemic restrictions, including religious gatherings.  Authorities continued monitoring, preventing, or disrupting the gatherings of some unregistered groups and harassed their members in different ways, including bringing Christian leaders into police stations for questioning and threatening that they could not celebrate Christmas.  In most cases, members of these religious groups were also involved in human rights advocacy activities or had links to individuals and organizations that were critical of the government.  Religious leaders in urban areas and the ethnic-majority Kinh largely reported authorities permitted them to practice without significant restrictions as long as they acted transparently and facilitated or allowed official oversight.  This remained true for both officially registered and unregistered religious groups.  Unrecognized religious denominations operating in the Central and Northwest Highlands and in certain parts of the Mekong Delta – especially those that had a predominantly ethnic minority following – were more likely to report harassment from government officials.  Recognized religious denominations in these areas reported rapid growth and generally fewer problems with officials.

There were no clear regulations for religious expression in the military, leaving individual unit commanders to exercise significant discretion.  According to religious leaders of multiple faiths, the government did not permit members of the military to practice religious rites at any time while on active duty; military members were required to take personal leave to do so.  State-run media, however, reported military officials praying for peace and happiness while visiting pagodas.

Male Khmer Krom Buddhists traditionally enter the monastery for a period of at least one month before the age of 20.  Adherents reported that mandatory conscription into the military with no possibility of alternative service interfered with this traditional religious rite of passage.

In March, authorities permitted the display of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen Buddhism calligraphy works for the first time at a Ho Chi Minh City exhibition.

According to the monks of Thien An Monastery in Thua Thien in Hue Province, senior provincial leaders visited the monastery on September 22 and discussed land-related issues.  At the meeting, authorities committed to establishing a working group to resolve land issues and to help the monastery obtain “stable and harmonious development.”

Many ordained pastors conducted pastoral work, despite not having completed the paperwork mandated by law to be recognized as clergy by the government.  For example, the ECVN reported only approximately one-fifth of its pastors had applied to be officially recognized by the government.

Some pastors of unregistered groups stated that authorities did not interfere with their clerical training, despite their lack of legal authorization.

According to family members, unlike in previous years, prisoners, including Catholics Le Dinh Luong, Ho Duc Hoa, Nguyen Nang Tinh, and Protestant Nguyen Trung Ton, had access to the Bible and other religious materials.

Media sources continued to report tension and disputes between Catholics and authorities in Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Thua Thien Hue, and Binh Thuan Provinces, mostly regarding land disputes or relating to the activities of human and environmental rights advocacy groups.  In March and April, local authorities of Ky Khang commune, Ky Anh District, Ha Tinh Province prevented Du Thanh parishioners from building a fishpond.  The local authorities accused parishioners of encroaching on agricultural land and starting construction work without permits, while parishioners said the work they were carrying out on parish property did not require a permit.  State-run media and progovernment websites accused the parish leadership of inciting the parishioners to act against the authorities and causing social unrest prior to National Assembly and People’s Council elections, while the parish leadership stated the authorities harassed them because of their criticism and protests.

Leaders of the unregistered Christian Duong Van Minh group reported local authorities in Ha Giang, Thai Nguyen, and Cao Bang Provinces no longer destroyed “Nha Don” structures built years ago for storing funeral-related items and were allowing the renovation of a small number of these structures.  However, local authorities in parts of Tuyen Quang Province continued prohibiting and destroying these structures.  The Duong Van Minh group, which the government considered either an “evil-way” religion or an “illegal organization,” reported local authorities monitored key members and stated that local police officials “visited” their residences from time to time or “invited” them to local authorities’ headquarters.  Those who refused such “invitations” said they were not subjected to reprisals.

Provincial and local authorities continued to exercise eminent domain over land belonging to individuals and religious organizations in the name of social and economic development projects.  Authorities continued many projects that required the revocation of land rights and the demolition of properties of religious organizations or individuals across the country.  Authorities reportedly did not intervene effectively in many land disputes that involved religious organizations or believers, and in most of these cases, the religious organizations or believers were unsuccessful in retaining land use rights.  Such actions resulted in land disputes involving recognized, registered, and unregistered religious organizations.

State media and progovernment websites alleged that Catholic priests in many parishes occupied – or urged their parishioners to use or illegally occupy – land legally used by non-Catholics or authorities.  There were also cases in which Catholics were alleged to have “misused” their land, for example, by turning an agricultural plot into a soccer field without the approval of the proper authorities.  From March to May, Dang Cao parishioners at Dien Doai commune, Dien Chau District, Nghe An Province unsuccessfully, attempted to fill and level an aquaculture pond to expand parish church facilities and build a fence surrounding a stadium it claimed as church property.  The parish also claimed a lot that was used as community property of the commune.  Many parishioners in this area said they were dissatisfied with the local authorities concerning the construction of a north-south highway in which the local authorities exercised eminent domain over parish land without providing adequate compensation and assistance.  Local authorities said they considered the parish’s claims groundless and unreasonable.  Some progovernment websites accused the parish leadership of attempting to cause social unrest before the May National Assembly and People’s Council elections.

From June to October, independent Hoa Hao followers in An Giang reported that local authorities and state-recognized Hoa Hao Buddhist groups in Phu Tan District, An Giang Province, citing a need to build a new pagoda, advocated tearing down the 100-year-old An Hoa Tu Pagoda.  That building is one of the first independent Hoa Hao pagodas built by Prophet Huynh Phu So, founder of the Hoa Hao religious tradition.  Independent Hoa Hao followers opposed the pagoda’s demolition due to its religious importance; they proposed it be renovated instead.  Plainclothes police reportedly assaulted independent Hoa Hao Buddhists who tried to prevent the pagoda’s demolition.  The government temporarily halted demolition of the pagoda, and it remained intact at year’s end.

Members of some unregistered religious groups, including independent Pentecostals in Dien Bien; unregistered Baptists in Thanh Hoa; Duong Van Minh in Tuyen Quang, Ha Giang and Cao Bang; and ethnic minority Protestants in the Central Highlands; reported administrative difficulties and an inability to access social welfare benefits.  There were cases in which individuals from these groups stated that local authorities told them the “difficulties would go away” if they recanted their faith.  Duong Van Minh followers in Cao Bang Province, for example, said local authorities denied new residential registrations and subsequently denied or delayed approval of businesses for those Duong Van Minh followers who lacked residential registration.  Local authorities required Duong Van Minh followers to sign a commitment to stop following Duong Van Minh if they wanted to receive assistance the authorities provided to ethnic minority households to construct housing.  In many cases, the individuals said they assumed authorities discriminated against them because of their faith.

On February 22, the Central Commission for Propaganda and Education of the Communist Party issued guidance on ethnic and religious issues.  Among its key contents relating to religion was an affirmation of the state’s respect for and guarantee of religious freedom that noted that religions are equal with each other and before the law.  The guidance also stressed the state’s determination to combat those who act against the Communist Party, the state, and “solidarity” under the cover of religion.  Numerous state officials, the GCRA, Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ministry of Education and Training, Vietnam Fatherland Front, local authorities, and others helped to disseminate the key messages of the guidance.  In connection with issuing the guidance, state officials, state-run media, and progovernment websites highlighted the foundation and operation of “illegal religious groups” that, they said, conducted activities that went against well-established and well-recognized religions and what they called “fine national traditions.”

The government continued efforts to deepen knowledge about the LBR among government officials and religious adherents.  Authorities also called for registered and recognized religious organizations to share publicly more information about their dogma and belief systems in an effort to persuade religious adherents to affiliate with established faith groups rather than with “new religious movements” or groups about which the government lacked information.

State-run media and progovernment blogs continued to accuse religious leaders and members who were vocal in their opposition to the government of exploiting religion for personal gain and of “colluding with hostile forces with the purpose of inciting public disorder and acting against the Communist Party and State.”  On July 12, Propaganda and Education magazine, a publication of the Communist Party, published an article criticizing outspoken priests.  The article labeled such priests “extremists” and asserted their criticism was fabricated or based on distorted information in order to tarnish the Communist Party and state, “to sow seeds of division,” and “to disrupt social order.”

State-run media and progovernment websites sometimes equated particular Christian denominations and other religious groups, often ones associated with ethnic groups such as the Vang Chu H’mong in the Northwest Highlands, Ha Mon Catholics and Degar Montagnard Protestants in the Central Highlands, and Khmer Krom in the southwestern region, with separatist movements, blaming them for political, economic, and social problems.

State media reported local and provincial authorities in the northern mountainous provinces, including Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, Bac Can, and Thai Nguyen, continued to call the Duong Van Minh religious group a threat to national security, political stability, and social order.  State media and progovernment websites continued referring to the group as “an evil-way religion” or “an illegal group.”  Some progovernment websites continued sharing sensational stories about Duong Van Minh’s leading a depraved life and misappropriating contributions of his followers for personal use.

A National Assembly deputy, Major General Sung Thin Co, at a National Assembly meeting in March criticized local officials for a “lack of responsibility and understanding about the Duong Van Minh group” and for turning it into an illegal organization.  According to Co, Duong Van Minh and his group helped H’mong to modify what he called outdated and burdensome traditions.  Progovernment websites heavily criticized General Co’s statement.

Several provincial-government, state-run, and progovernment websites continued referring to Falun Gong as an “evil-way religion” and an “extremist religious group.”  Many progovernment websites associated Falun Gong with acts against the Communist Party and the state and with having a hostile political agenda.  Some accused Falun Gong of doing harm to traditional culture and disrupting the social order and public safety.  During the year, local police in several provinces, including Hanoi, Yen Bai, Quang Binh, Can Tho, An Giang, Tien Giang, and Tra Vinh, disrupted gatherings of Falun Gong practitioners and confiscated their publications and other items.  In a number of cases, local police summoned the practitioners to local police stations for interrogation or fined them for violating COVID-19-related restrictions.  On July 7, local authorities of Tan Hung commune, Cai Be District, Tien Giang Province fined seven Falun Gong practitioners more than 50 million dong ($2,200) for violating social distancing regulations when they were found gathering at the house of a practitioner.  On September 29, local police of Tan Xa commune, Thach That District, Hanoi city summoned two Falun Gong practitioners for disseminating materials relating to the group.  Local police confiscated nearly 170 publications and items relating to Falun Gong and required them to stop the dissemination of similar materials.

During the year, authorities at the central to local levels encouraged the engagement of recognized religious groups in charitable and healthcare activities.  Many religious groups and religious adherents directly organized and ran these activities or joined with authorities and other organizations and individuals to do so.  Religious groups also contributed to COVID-19-related funding and communication campaigns.  Thousands of members of different religious organizations volunteered to work at field hospitals, directly taking care of COVID-19 victims or otherwise assisting persons in need.

In what observers stated was a growing trend, 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.

Most representatives of religious groups continued to report anecdotally that 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.  Religious leaders said that religious belief itself did not lead to official discrimination, but rather it was the implication of being affiliated with any type of extralegal group that could attract additional scrutiny from authorities.  Practitioners of various registered religious groups served in local and provincial government positions and were represented in the National Assembly.  In May, one Catholic priest and four VBS monks were elected to the 499-member National Assembly.  Many nationally recognized religious organizations, such as the VBS, as well as other clergy and religious followers, were members of the Vietnam Fatherland Front.  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; however, while many senior CPV leaders were reported to hold strong religious beliefs, particularly Buddhist, they generally did not publicly discuss their religious affiliation.

During the year, the GCRA initiated a three-year review of the LBR and its implementing decree in numerous provinces.  The National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescence and Children and the Vietnam Fatherland Front also met with local authorities and leaders of religious organizations to oversee implementation of the law.  During the year, authorities conducted many of the training sessions and inspections related to the review online.  On July 24, GCRA Buddhism Department Director Nguyen Phuc Nguyen gave a presentation about the LBR and its implementing decree at the VBS online proselytizing center.  The National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescence and Children on October 8 worked with Tuyen Quang authorities to share information about the implementation of the laws in the field of belief and religions, among other legal rights and obligations.

Although the law prohibited publishing all materials, including religious materials, without government approval, 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 other languages, including Chinese, Ede, Jarai, Banar, M’nong, H’mong, C’ho, and English.  Other published texts included works pertaining to ancestor worship, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Cao Dai.

The Church of Jesus Christ continued to report authorities permitted it to import sufficient copies of the Book of Mormon, although at year’s end, the Church was still working with the GCRA to import additional faith-based periodicals.

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 these education programs in recent years.  Students continued to participate in online training sessions on fundamental Buddhist philosophy when many pagodas could not organize offline training, due to COVID-19.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of conflicts, at times violent, between members of unregistered and registered or recognized religious groups or between religious adherents and nonbelievers.  Religious activists blamed the authorities for “manipulating” members of recognized religious groups and accused undercover government agents and proxies of causing these conflicts to intimidate or suppress the activities of unregistered groups.

On October 14, the Ministry of Information and Communication fined “Rap Nha Lam” 45 million dong ($2,000) for producing and disseminating a music clip insulting Gautama Buddha following strong protests of Buddhist communities and the public against the clip.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Representatives of the embassy and the consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City regularly raised concerns about religious freedom with a wide range of government officials and CPV leaders, including the President, Prime Minister, and senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security, the GCRA, and other government offices in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and various provinces and cities.  They stressed to government officials that progress on religious freedom and human rights was critical to an improved bilateral relationship.

The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy and consulate general officials continued to urge authorities to allow all religious groups to operate freely, including the UBCV, Protestant and Catholic house churches, and independent Cao Dai and Hoa Hao groups.  They also sought greater freedom for recognized and registered religious groups, advocated for access to religious materials and clergy for persons who were incarcerated, and urged an end to restrictions on unregistered groups.  Embassy and consulate general officials raised specific cases of abuses, as well as of government harassment against Catholics, Protestant groups, the UBCV, independent Hoa Hao groups, independent Cao Dai, and ethnic minority house churches with the GCRA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and provincial and local authorities.  U.S. government officials continued to call for the increased registration of church congregations around the country and for improvement in registration policies to make them more uniform and transparent.  In addition, U.S. officials urged the government to peacefully resolve outstanding land rights disputes with religious groups.

The Department of State senior official for international religious freedom raised these issues during the annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in November, and raised specific concerns about implementation of the LBR, the status of religious believers detained or imprisoned, property issues involving religious groups, and the situation of ethnic religious minority groups.

The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met with religious leaders of both registered and unregistered religious groups and attended religious ceremonies to demonstrate support for religious freedom.  On March 25, the Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City met with Archbishop Nguyen Chi Linh, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, during her visit to Thua Thien-Hue Province.  On April 12, the Ambassador and the Consul General met with Pastor Le Quoc Huy, General Secretary of the Vietnam Evangelical Alliance, in Ho Chi Minh City.  On May 24, the Consul General met with Deputy Patriarch of the VBS Thich Tri Quang on the occasion of Vesak.

Embassy and consulate general officials traveled throughout the country, including to the Northwest and Central Highlands, to monitor religious liberty and meet with religious leaders.  Representatives of the embassy and consulate general maintained frequent contact with leaders and members of numerous religious communities, including recognized, registered, and unregistered organizations.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future