Local authorities in southern Vietnam violently broke into the temple of an unofficial branch of the indigenous Cao Dai minority religious group on Wednesday, detaining a leader and several members of the sect, sources said.
The raid on the Long Binh temple of the Cao Dai church in Tien Giang province in the Mekong Delta region came a week after a police raid on a temple belonging to an unsanctioned branch of another group, the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, in southwestern Vietnam.
Wednesday’s raid on Long Binh was launched at 7:30 a.m. by security officers of local authorities and administrators of the government-approved Tien Giang provincial Cao Dai church dressed not in religious garb but in “plain clothes,” temple leader Le Van Ngoc Diep told RFA’s Vietnamese Service while under detention on Wednesday.
“They, along with local security people, broke our door to get in and attacked us,” said Diep. “Some of us fainted, and some were injured.”
“They used a big truck to break the main gate. There were about 60 people inside the temple. They took away six people, including me.”
“They came to order us to hand over the temple,” said another church member, who was also detained and taken by force to another temple.
“We ran in different directions,” the church member said, adding, “I and some others were bound and thrown inside a car to be brought here.”
“How can they just arrest people like this? Of course, we will complain,” he said.
'Need to keep temple'
Interviewed by RFA, other members of the Long Binh temple said that the group had refused earlier demands to surrender the facility to government authorities.
“We said that we need to keep this temple so that we can follow our traditions as we have in the past,” one temple member said.
“Since 1975, all pure Cao Dai followers have been classified as outlaws by the government of Vietnam,” another follower said. “The authorities only recognize organizations set up by the [ruling Communist] Party.”
“But we feel that our religion belongs to God and the Buddha, not the Party, so we don’t need to have legal status,” he said.
“We are determined to gain religious freedom in Vietnam.”
On June 25, Vo Van Thanh Liem, the leader of an unsanctioned Hoa Hao Buddhist group in southwestern Vietnam, slashed his stomach to protest an attack by police officers who beat and threw sewage on followers celebrating the anniversary of the sect’s founding.
Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai religions, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting groups who do not follow the state-sanctioned branches.
In an annual report on international religious freedoms released in May, the U.S. State Department said that Vietnam showed signs of improvement in 2012 despite continuing “problems.”
The State Department included Vietnam on its list of Countries of Particular Concern for abuses of religious freedom in 2004 but removed it from the blacklist two years later.
It has since ignored repeated calls by rights groups and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms (USCIRF) to reinstate the country’s designation.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.