Authorities in Vietnam have cracked down on two unrecognized churches in recent days, according to worshippers who said they were harassed, forbidden from holding religious services and had assets seized by the state.
Secretary general of the Interfaith Council of Vietnam Le Quang Hien, who is a follower of Hoa Hao Buddhism, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Friday that authorities had recently blocked his sect’s preparations to mark the March 22 anniversary of founder Huynh Phu So’s death.
“About 10 days before the anniversary, one person claiming to be police captain Viet of the An Giang provincial police told us that there was an order from above forbidding us to hold the ceremony,” Hien said.
“Additionally, on March 18, Ha Van Duy Ho [another follower] was told by the Nhon My village authorities to visit their office for a talk and ordered him not to organize a ceremony or else they would take measures against him.”
According to Hien, Hoa Hao followers voiced their frustration by holding a sit-in at their homes while holding banners that read, “Protest the order of Vietnam’s Communist Party.”
“Some followers still held a ceremony [on March 22 to mark the founder’s death] at their homes, but local authorities deployed security personnel to confiscate the banners they displayed,” Hien said.
Rights groups say that authorities in An Giang routinely harass followers of unapproved Hoa Hao groups, prohibiting public readings of Huynh Phu So’s writings and discouraging worshipers from visiting Hoa Hao pagodas in An Giang and other provinces.
Cao Dai church
Authorities also disrupted a group of unsanctioned Cao Dai adherents in Dong Thap province’s Tam Nong district in recent days and seized their church for use by an officially recognized sect of the religion, according to the building’s administrator Duong Ngoc Re.
Re told RFA that provincial and district authorities, as well as those from local Phu Thanh A village, ordered him to meet with them twice on March 16 and 19 to force his group to follow a sanctioned Cao Dai sect, but he refused.
Early on March 20, Re and two other followers saw a group of uniformed and plainclothes police officers cut the lock to the door of their church and begin taking items out of the building.
“I asked them, ‘These are our legal assets—why have you cut the lock and entered,” he said, noting that his community had built the church in 1952.
“I protested, but they went ahead with what they were doing.”
The following day, Re said, around 100 of his group’s adherents returned to the church to find it locked with a notice posted on the door claiming the building now belonged to the state-sanctioned sect.
Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai religions but imposes harsh controls on dissenting groups that do not follow state-sanctioned branches.
Just last month, several high-ranking members of the Interfaith Council of Vietnam were attacked by security officers on their way from Vietnam’s economic capital Ho Chi Minh City to the countryside to visit religious leaders of unsanctioned Hoa Hao and Cao Dai churches for the Tet Lunar New Year.
Two Cao Dai followers were also beaten and robbed by plainclothes police, a source told RFA at the time, adding that the authorities often hire thugs or plainclothes officers to beat and harass activists when they lack evidence to arrest them.
Reported by Hoa Ai for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.