Hoa Hao Buddhists Under House Arrest Amid Religious Anniversary

Men believed to be hired by local authorities have confined the sect’s followers to their homes.

A church from the unrecognized Hoa Hao Buddhist sect in Vietnam's An Giang province, in a file photo.

Several members of an unsanctioned sect of Hoa Hao Buddhism are being kept under de facto house arrest by unidentified men in Vietnam and denied access to social media as they mark the 78th anniversary of their religion’s founding, one of the people targeted in the crackdown said Monday.

According to a follower of the unofficial Hoa Hao group in southern Vietnam’s An Giang province, he and “several others” around the country have been held at their homes for days by men they believe were hired by local authorities in the lead up to the anniversary, which falls on June 12 this year.

“Since June 9, those of us opposed to the wrongdoings of the state-recognized Hoa Hao sect and the [ruling Communist Party of Vietnam] have been put under house arrest by the authorities,” said the source, who spoke to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on condition of anonymity.

“Many people have come to guard us, so we can’t get out of our houses.”

The source was unable to specify how many unofficial Hoa Hao Buddhists are being kept confined to their homes during the anniversary period.

Other members of the sect told RFA that they had been locked out of their Facebook accounts as part of a bid by authorities to prevent them from posting any unsanctioned religious content.

The reports of harassment against unofficial Hoa Hao Buddhists came as the Central Administrative Committee of the government-endorsed Hoa Hao Buddhist Association held a large celebration Monday to mark the 78th anniversary of the religion in An Hoa Tu township, in An Giang’s Phu Tan district, according to state media.

During the ceremony, Tran Thi Thanh Huong, chairman of An Giang’s Vietnam Fatherland Front Committee, praised the Hoa Hao Buddhist Association for its work in upholding traditional doctrine and promoting patriotism in recent years, as well as its strong affiliation with the government.

Huong also applauded the Central Administrative Committee of the Hoa Hao Buddhist Association for its achievements in building national defense.

Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao religion, which has some two million followers across the country, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting Hoa Hao groups that do not follow the state-sanctioned branch.

Rights groups say that authorities routinely harass followers of the unapproved groups, prohibiting public readings of the Hoa Hao founder’s writings and discouraging worshipers from visiting Hoa Hao pagodas in An Giang and other provinces.

In March, secretary general of the Interfaith Council of Vietnam Le Quang Hien, who is a follower of Hoa Hao Buddhism, told RFA that authorities in An Giang blocked his sect’s preparations to mark the anniversary of founder Huynh Phu So’s death that month.

And in June 2016, the follower of a Hoa Hao sect operating outside of government control said local authorities blocked approaches to his family’s home in An Giang and sent men on motorbikes to intimidate and attack his wife and daughter in the run-up to the sect’s 77th anniversary.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.