New Law Limits Religious Freedom

A rights group says new rules in Vietnam give the state more power to curb religious freedom.

Elderly women pray at a Buddhist pagoda in downtown Hanoi, Aug. 20, 2010.

A new decree on religion in Vietnam gives the one-party communist state greater control of people’s beliefs and undermines religious freedom in the country, a rights group said Thursday.

The Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau said it was “deeply concerned” that the newly issued Decree 92 will give authorities broader leeway to sanction and restrict religious activities.

“Decree 92 simply adds to the framework of legislation used to give a ‘veneer of legality’ to a policy of religious repression, planned at the highest levels of the Communist Party and state, and methodically implemented throughout the country, which aims to crush all independent movements and place religions under strict Communist Party control,’ the group said in a statement Thursday.

The decree 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 the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam that is affiliated with IBIB, are banned, with some of their members living under house arrest for practicing religion outside state-sanctioned groups.

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.

The new decree, in addition to preserving the restrictive provisions of its predecessor, adds new obligations and “vaguely-worded provisions” that that give authorities greater powers over religious activities, IBIB said.

One article in the decree, the group said, stipulates that in order to receive full legal recognition, a religious group must prove that it has operated for 20 years without violating the law, including “infringing of national security.”

But this can put organizations in a Catch-22 situation, because simply operating without having received legal recognition could count as an infringement of national security, the group said.

Chapters of the decree outlining what activities religious groups must register show the extreme scrutiny required by political authorities, the group said.

“Vietnam is not seeking to promote greater freedom of religion, but to implement the Vietnamese Communist Party’s directives to ‘increase state management of religious affairs,’” IBIB said.

Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.


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