A prominent Vietnamese Buddhist leader on Friday called a new religious decree issued by the one party communist state “harsh” and said authorities were working tirelessly to disband his organization.
Head of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) Thich Quang Do, 84, who is currently under de facto house arrest, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service in a telephone interview that the newly issued Decree 92 will seriously curtail religious freedom in the country.
“Decree 92 is harsh,” he said. “It is much more restrictive than previous decrees.”
The decree, which was introduced earlier this month, spells out directives and measures for implementing the Ordinance on Beliefs and Religion governing religious practice in Vietnam.
It lays out procedures by which religious organizations can register their activities, places of worship, and clerics to operate openly or to apply for official recognition.
Religious activity is strictly monitored in Vietnam, where groups must operate under government-controlled management boards.
The government recognizes 31 religious organizations representing 11 different religions including Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao traditions.
But members of non-recognized groups, such as Christian house churches or Thich Quang Do’s UBCV, are banned, with some of their members living under house arrest for practicing religion outside state-sanctioned groups.
In a Friday statement from the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB), which is affiliated with the UBCV, Thich Quang Do said that authorities had “systematically repressed” his organization since the North Vietnamese took control of the South in 1975 and united Vietnam under communist rule.
During a rare meeting on Thursday with Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Hugh Borrowman in Ho Chi Minh City, Thich Quang Do said the UBCV has since been forbidden to conduct religious activities, open schools or launch humanitarian operations.
“The authorities are seeking every pretext to disband the UBCV. When they find one, they will not hesitate to suppress us,” he told Borrowman during their talk at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, where the Buddhist leader has been under house arrest without charge since 2003.
The UBCV was effectively banned in 1981 and supplanted by the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS), which is controlled by the Communist Party’s Fatherland Front.
Thich Quang Do said that since his house arrest, he has “lived like a prisoner” in the monastery, where he is forbidden from preaching or reciting prayers on anyone’s behalf, and all of his visitors are monitored.
Decree 92 was issued by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Nov. 8 and will come into force on Jan. 1, replacing an earlier decree issued in 2005.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.