Human Rights Watch Slams Vietnam’s Record on Religious Freedom In Its Annual Report

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Freedom of Religion

The government restricts religious practices through legislation, registration requirements, harassment, and surveillance. A special centrally directed police unit (A41) monitors groups the authorities consider religious “extremists.”

Religious groups are required to register with the government and operate under government-controlled management boards. The government bans any religious activity deemed to oppose “national interests,” harm national unity, cause public disorder, or “sow divisions.”

Adherents of some unregistered religious groups and religious activists campaigning for internationally guaranteed rights are harassed, arrested, imprisoned, or placed under house arrest. During Buddhist festivals in May and August Da Nang police blocked access to Giac Minh Buddhist pagoda and interrogated the pagoda’s abbot, who is the provincial representative of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). In May religious leader Cam Tu Huynh was sentenced to prison on charges of slander for criticizing police crackdowns against followers of the unrecognized branch of the Cao Dai religion.

Those currently in prison for their religious or political beliefs-or a combination of the two-include more than 300 Montagnard Christians, as well as Hoa Hao Buddhists, and members of the Cao Dai religion. Religious leaders under house arrest include UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Quang Do, Catholic priests Nguyen Van Ly and Phan Van Loi, and Khmer Krom Buddhist Abbot Thach Sophon.

Members of officially recognized religious groups, including Roman Catholics, also face harassment, especially church leaders and lay people attempting to protect church property. In January police used tear gas and electric batons to disperse villagers from Dong Chiem parish near Hanoi who were trying to stop police from taking down a crucifix.

In May police violently dispersed villagers conducting a funeral procession and protest march to a cemetery located on disputed land in Con Dau parish in Da Nang. Police used truncheons and electric shock batons to beat people and arrested more than 60 persons. Most of those arrested were subsequently released, but seven were charged with opposing law enforcement officers and disturbing public order. Afterwards one of the villagers, Nguyen Thanh Nam, was interrogated and beaten by police on several occasions; he died in July from injuries suffered during a beating by civil defense forces.


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