In its annual report for 2011, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that the government of Vietnam continued to suppress religious freedom and deserved to be put back in the list of Country of Particular Concerns (CPC) for serious violations of religious freedom.
According to the report “The government of Vietnam continues to control religious communities, severely restrict and penalize independent religious practice, and brutally repress individuals and groups viewed as challenging its authority.”
Vietnam, a communist authoritarian state, currently enjoys an economic assistance package from the US worth $125 million for the current year, a portion a portion of which is meant for improving human rights and religious freedom. However, religious freedom in Vietnam means the government creates policies and registration restrictions to discourage independent religious activities. Additionally, Vietnam’s records on human rights keep deteriorating ever since the country became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2007.
Under the vagueness of Vietnam’s legal maze, police and government officials are encouraged to abuse and harass religious leaders and followers. Governmental Decrees forbids forced renunciations but in many situations, this is a fictitious gesture as police continued to force followers to denounce and abandon their faiths.
The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), independent Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and Protestant groups, and some ethnic minority Protestants and Buddhists continued to suffer repression. Religious leaders such as the Supreme Patriarch of the UBCV Thich Quang Do and Father Phan Van Loi remain under lengthy house arrest. Members and Buddhist supporters of the UBCV are constantly facing discrimination, surveillance, and intimidation from special religious police (A41).
The USCIRF asserts that Vietnam still has “prisoners of concerns”, imprisoned for their religious activities or advocacy for religious freedom. The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do of the UBCV, who has been imprisoned or placed under house arrest since 1975, is among these “prisoners of concerns”.
In addition to refusing legal recognition for the UBCV and other independent religious groups, the communist government of Vietnam discriminates against these religious organizations by banning them from overseeing their own temples and churches, educational institutes, and religious and charity activities.
The USCIRF recommends that Vietnam be re-designated as a CPC in 2011. The USCIRF also calls on the government of Vietnam to immediately release or commute the sentences of the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, other UBCV leaders imprisoned since 2003, and other prisoners of concerns. The US government is also recommended to push Vietnam to lift the ban against the UBCV so that it can legally and independently operate.
The following are observations on repression against the UBCV in the USCIRF annual report 2011.
Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV)
The UBCV is Vietnam’s largest religious organization with a history of peaceful social activism and moral reform. The UBCV has faced decades of harassment and repression for seeking independent status and for appealing to the government to respect religious freedom and related human rights. Senior UBCV monks, including the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, with whom USCIRF delegations met in 2007 and 2009, remain under some form of administrative probation or pagoda arrest. Charges issued in 2004 against UBCV leaders for “possessing state secrets” have never been rescinded. Local attempts by monks to organize UBCV provincial boards or carry out charitable activities also are thwarted. Police routinely question UBCV monks and monitor their movement and activities. Foreign visitors to UBCV monasteries have been assaulted and harassed. Government officials have taken steps to make sure that government-affiliated monasteries do not affiliate overtly with the UBCV. Routine systematic harassment of UBCV monks and affiliated pagodas occurs in the provinces of Quang Nam-Danang, Thua Thien Hue, Binh Dinh, Khanh Hoa, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Dong Nai, Hau Giang, and An Giang.
UBCV adherents also experience harassment and intimidation. During its visits to Vietnam, USCIRF learned that the Vietnamese government’s Religious Security Police (cong an ton giao) routinely harasses and intimidates UBCV followers, warning that if they continue to frequent known UBCV pagodas, they may be arrested, lose their jobs, or see their children expelled from school. The government has actively sought to suppress the activities and growth of the Buddhist Youth Movement.
There are continued reports of harassment and disbandment of religious ceremonies and other activities conducted by UBCV monks. Police routinely interrogated the Venerable Thich Vien Dinh and other monks from the Giac Hoa Pagoda in Saigon and issued fines for minor building code violations. Officials also have prevented them from holding festivals on Vesak (Buddha’s Birthday) and the Lunar New Year.
In May 2010, 300 followers were denied entry into the Giac Minh Pagoda for Vesak celebrations. The UBCV in Da Nang was prohibited by police from holding Vesak Day celebrations to honor Buddha’s birthday. In Ho Chi Minh City, the UBCV experienced an overall decrease in interference by government officials during the reporting period but experienced heightened police observation during Vesak activities. Police monitored the celebrations on May 28 at the Giac Hoa and Lien Tri pagodas but did not intervene. UBCV officials claimed attendance by followers at the celebrations was lower than normal due to the increased police presence. Some followers stated that they were questioned by police officers after celebrations at the Lien Tri pagoda.
The entire USCIRF Annual Report 2011 can be read at this address: http://www.uscirf.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3594