Followers of Vietnam’s Cao Dai religion confronted supporters of a state-sanctioned branch of the church who came to take over their facilities on Thursday, with church members barring the door against the intruders amid heated arguments with local authorities, sources told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
The attempted takeover of the Hieu Xuong, also called Phu Lam, temple in Phu Yen province’s Tuy Hoa city was launched in the early morning by about 60 members of the state-approved Cao Dai church together with local police, a leader of the other group said.
He and other members of his congregation then quickly gathered to protect their building, the church leader named Nguyen Ha said.
“We closed the door, not allowing them into the temple, and some of our followers who were standing outside spoke with the authorities and the state-affiliated Cao Dai group,” Nguyen said, adding, “The dispute in front of the temple’s gate lasted for many hours.”
At 11:00, the state-sanctioned group departed after taking video footage of the clash, he said.
Speaking to RFA following the clash, Cao Van Minh—a Cao Dai church leader and manager of the Hieu Xuong temple—said he hopes that the state-affiliated Cao Dai group and the local authorities will now leave them alone.
“We don’t want them to disturb us anymore,” Cao said.
“We only want to be authentic followers of the Cao Dai church belonging to God, and not have to argue about these things,” he said.
Reached for comment, an office on duty at the Tuy Hoa City police department denied any knowledge of the clash.
Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Cao Dai religion, which combines elements of many religions, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting groups who do not follow the state-sanctioned branches, and clashes are frequent.
In March 2017, authorities disrupted a group of unsanctioned Cao Dai adherents in Dong Thap province’s Tam Nong district 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.
Just a month before, two Cao Dai followers were beaten and robbed by plainclothes police, a source told RFA at the time, adding that local authorities often hire thugs or plainclothes officers to beat and harass activists when they lack evidence to arrest them.
The State Department removed Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern for violating religious freedom in 2006 amid improving diplomatic relations, but rights groups and Vietnamese religious activists have long questioned that decision.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in an annual report in April 2019 that “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom” justified returning Hanoi to the blacklist.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.