VIETNAM denies freedom of assembly to the clergy of the Evangelical Church

Country’s largest evangelical body forced to ‘postpone’ conference.

 

Morning Star News (02.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/3mVQWvk – The government of Vietnam has denied the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) permission to hold its scheduled bi-annual Clergy Assembly, according to the Bureau of Religious Affairs.

 

After the ECVN(S) announced on Nov. 25 that it was “postponing” the assembly scheduled for Feb. 1-3, 2021 because the government had denied permission, the Bureau of Religious Affairs released a statement the same day confirming its decision and urging the ECVN(S) to meet requirements of Vietnamese law in order to hold the assembly.

 

Sources said the government denial is based on the ECVN(S)’s refusal to comply with Article 34 of the 2018 Law on Religion, which requires a national religious body to submit names of its candidates for leadership for government approval in advance of the meeting at which their election would take place.

 

Besides finding it repugnant that an atheistic government would claim the right to decide who is fit to become a church leader, the ECVN(S) argues that Article 34 is contrary to its government-approved 2001 constitution and contrary to a century of practice. The church body unanimously passed a “line-in-the-sand” motion at its 2017 General Assembly that it could not and would not comply with Article 34.

 

The ECVN(S) had complained that Article 34 was inserted after the last publicly circulated draft of the Law on Religion that went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. During the period for public review before the National Assembly passed the law, Vietnam’s religious leaders, international human rights observers and advocates, as well the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief, had sounded alarms that the law was highly defective and urged Vietnam to amend it.

 

Besides allowing a government veto of the church’s nominations of its own officers, Article 34 requirements would be impossible to meet from a practical point of view, church leaders said. The democratic nature of the ECVN(S) constitution allows for nominations from the floor at the voting assembly, and thus it would be impossible to submit names of candidates for church leadership in advance of the assembly.

 

The Clergy Assembly itself was a novel development in the ECVN(S) 2001 constitution required by the government. Until then, the church had functioned well with a periodic General Assembly. At that time the government had tried to install some leaders under its influence as the first officers of the essentially redundant Clergy Assembly in an apparent attempt to set up competing leaders within the church.

 

That church-state confrontation portended what many stakeholders warned would happen – a 2018 Law on Religion designed to provide the authorities with more tools to interfere in and control religion, rather than provide more freedom.

 

The ECVN(S) announcement, signed by its President Thai Phuoc Truong and General Secretary Phan Quang Thieu, stated that even if government permission were immediately forthcoming, it was now too late to plan the large event.

 

Vietnam ranked 21st on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.




Vietnam monks reject state-run TV station’s accusations

Benedictines say the report is offensive and that they have proof of ownership of disputed land.

 

By Hue

UCA News (28.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/3hJ3uDN – Benedictine monks in central Vietnam have asked a government-run television station’s officials to deal with a documentary which wrongly accused them of invading land.

 

On Aug. 17, state-run Radio and Television Station based in Thua Thien Hue province aired a documentary titled “Some monks at Thien An Monastery appropriate land and distort the truth,” which reported that on Aug. 10-11 concerned people with banners gathered at pine forests at Thuy Bang Commune to demand some monks stop cutting down pines and invading land illegally.

 

The 6.5-minute documentary said the pine forests are managed by the commune and accused some monks of regularly shouting at and offending people.

 

Newscaster Nguyen Thi Diem My, who presented the documentary, said the monks posted videos and writings with untrue contents on social media, vilifying government authorities and police for posing as members of the public, terrorizing and hurting the monks’ dignity.

 

Benedictine monks said the film “has untrue contents, gravely offends us and follows the provincial government’s sponsoring of public security officers, police and gangsters who posed as the people and illegally broke into the monastery on Aug. 10-11.”

 

They said they have absolute proof of ownership of the 107-hectare plot of land including facilities and pine forests since 1940. After 1975, when Vietnam came under communist rule, the monks never donated, ceded or offered their land to any individuals or organizations.

 

They said they have petitioned local government authorities many times to return the land they had “borrowed.”

 

The Benedictines rejected the fact that Nguyen Viet Ton was interviewed in the film saying that his family had lived in the area for three generations.

 

The monks said Ton’s grandfather Nguyen Viet Doan was an orphan who moved to the commune in 1960 and Ton’s father Nguyen Viet Cu was given material support and a plot of land to cultivate for a living by the monks.

 

They said they have not received any documents from the local government stating that they grabbed the land. They said it is the state-run Tien Phong forestry company that is responsible for appropriating their land and refusing to return it.

 

They said the television station’s accusations violate the country’s press laws and destroy the monks’ dignity.

 

“More seriously, the documentary’s wrong contents cause bad public opinions across the country and abroad, and lose public trust in the state’s media,” Father Andrew Trong Nguyen Van Tam, the monastery’s superior, said in an Aug. 23 letter to Nguyen Van Du, director of the station.

 

Father Tam invited Du and Diem My to meet the monks at their monastery on Sept. 1 so that the monks could give accurate information and feedback.

 

He said the monks would also invite some individuals and organizations who invaded their land and pine forests to meet them on that day.

 

“We would like to receive cooperation from you to deal with the case legally and objectively,” Father Tam said, adding that if they do not come, the monks will petition the local government to deal with the case.

 

Sources said local authorities had removed a barbed-wire fence they erected on Aug. 13 from the controversial land.




EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement: HRWF calls for the release of 28 Buddhist prisoners

HRWF (11.06.2020) – Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) calls upon the EU institutions to strictly monitor the implementation of the human rights provisions included in the a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU), which will enter into force on 1 July 2020, and in particular the freedom of association of Buddhist and Christian groups.

 

When the EP Trade Committee backed the agreement earlier this year, it linked its green light to the respect of “labour and human rights” by Vietnam. The press release of the Committee stressed that “The agreement commits Vietnam to apply the Paris Agreement. Vietnam scheduled the ratification of two remaining bills on the abolition of forced labour and on freedom of association by 2020 and 2023, respectively. If there are human rights breaches, the trade deal can be suspended.”

 

The National Assembly of Vietnam has now ratified a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU), which will enter into force on 1 July 2020.

 

On 30 June 2019, the European Union and Vietnam signed a Trade Agreement and an Investment Protection Agreement. The European Parliament subsequently gave its consent to both Agreements on 12 February 2020 and the Free Trade Agreement was concluded by Council on 30 March 2020.

The Reasons for the Persecution of Buddhists in Vietnam

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 97 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to statistics released by the Government Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA), 26.4 percent of the population is categorized as religious believers:  14.91 percent is Buddhist, 7.35 percent Roman Catholic, 1.09 percent Protestant, 1.16 percent Cao Dai, and 1.47 percent Hoa Hao Buddhist.[1]

 

In Vietnam, government restrictions have sharply limited all religious activities for both registered and non-registered groups. In 1981, six years after the Communists took power over the whole country, the new government unified a number of Buddhist organisations under the umbrella group Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam (BSV) which was placed under its authority.

 

The Unified Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam (UBSV), founded in 1964 in order to unite 11 of the 14 different Buddhist groups, refused allegiance to the Communist regime and was banned. The UBSV was denied the official authorization to operate and was consequently banned. The UBSV Patriarch, Thich Quang Do, who had been under house arrest since his appointment in 1999, died in February 2020 at the age of 92.

 

Religious teachings are considered to be incompatible with communist ideology, and any form of assembly is perceived as a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly of power.  Consequently, all religious groups are supposed to be under the strict rule of the Communist Party. Buddhist leaders who refuse allegiance to the Communist Party are harassed and imprisoned while their groups are declared illegal or banned.

Two groups are particularly persecuted: An Dan Dai Dao and Hoa Hao Buddhists.

 

An Dan Dai Dao (ADDD) is a Buddhist group founded in 1969 that was quickly outlawed and persecuted after the Communist takeover in 1975. Most of the properties have now been expropriated, while followers were forced into hiding. The leaders of ADDD have long been treated as criminals. Phan Van Thu, — its founder and leader — was accused by the authorities of working for the CIA and intending to “rebel” against the regime.[2]

 

Phat Giao Hoa Hao (known simply as Hoa Hao) [3]  was established on 4 July 1939 by Buddhist reformer Huynh Phu So in the southern Vietnamese province of An Giang. Hoa Hao Buddhism is described by Encyclopaedia Britannica Online as “an amalgam of Buddhism, ancestor worship, animistic rites, elements of Confucian doctrine, and indigenous Vietnamese practices”.[4] The government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao religion but imposes harsh controls on dissenting groups that do not follow the state-sanctioned branch. As an independently organized religious group, they are denied registration and the government cracks down hard on their gatherings and temples.

 

Buddhists in Prison in Vietnam

 

Two Buddhist groups are particularly persecuted because they refuse to swear allegiance to the Communist Party: An Dan Dai Dao and Hoa Hao Buddhists.

 

Buddhists behind bars: some statistics

As of April 2020, HRWF documented 28 Buddhists who were convicted of criminal offences for practicing their right to freedom of religion or belief.[5] Of these cases, 22 were members of the An Dan Dai Dao group and twenty-one of them were arrested in 2012, with prison terms ranging from 12 to 17 years. One arrest was made in 2014 with a prison term of six years. Almost all of these individuals were charged with subversion under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code and accused of writing documents critical of the government. Life sentence was given in one case, with charges brought under Articles 79, as well as Article 258, which refers to alleged abuses of democratic freedoms, such as freedom of belief and religion, to infringe upon the interest of the State.

 

The remaining six arrests of the twenty-eight documented cases were of members of the Hoa Hao Buddhist group. They occurred in 2017, with the exception of one case which goes back to 2011. In most of these cases the charges were “causing public unrest”, under Article 245 of the 1999 Penal Code. In one case the charges were brought under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code.

 

Articles of the Penal Code

Buddhist followers were charged under Articles 79, 88, 245 and 258 of the 1999 Penal Code.

 

Article 79 stipulates that those who carry out activities, establish or join organizations with intent to overthrow the people’s administration “shall be sentenced to between twelves and twenty years of imprisonment, life imprisonment or capital punishment”.https://www.unodc.org/res/cld/document/vnm/penal-code_html/Vietnam_Penal_Code_1999.pdf

 

Article 88 states that conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, such as distorting and/or defaming the people’s administration, spreading fabricated news in order to foment confusion, “shall be sentenced to between three and twelve years of imprisonment”.

 

According to Article 245 of the Penal Code, those who “foment public disorder” shall be sentenced to a fine, non-custodial reform for up to two years or between three months and two years imprisonment, and in case of an offence using weapons the offender “shall be sentenced to between two and seven years of imprisonment”.

 

Article 258 stipulates that those who “abuse the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of belief, religion, assembly, association and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” shall be subject to warning, non-custodial reform for up to three years or a prison term of between six months and three years.

 

In the overwhelming majority of cases the government has extensively used the charge under Article 79, which carries the harshest sentence, namely life imprisonment or capital punishment, can be regarded as the government using the Penal Code as a deterrent against those it perceives to disobey its rule and therefore must bring under its control. It is also indicative that reference to national security indeed plays a central role in the detention of religious followers.

 

By invoking vaguely worded provisions in the Penal Code such as “subversion”, or “abuse of democratic freedoms” the government incriminates and silences Buddhists who practice their freedom of religion or belief outside of state-sanctioned religious organizations.

 

International advocacy

The European Parliament has regularly followed Vietnam’s overall dire human rights record, in particular violations of freedom of religion or belief. In its November 2018 resolution on Vietnam, the European Parliament noted that freedom of religion or belief is repressed in the country, and non-recognized religions, such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, continue to suffer severe religious persecution. It called on the government to remove all restrictions on freedom of religion and to put an end to the harassment of religious communities. It further urged the government to bring its legislation in conformity with international human rights standards and obligations.[7]

 

Every year since 2002, USCIRF has recommended that Vietnam be designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).

 

Conclusions

Vietnam has repressive policies toward Buddhists refusing allegiance to the Communist regime and escaping its official control. Any threat to power, real or perceived, is summarily suppressed.

 

In July 2014, UN Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, undertook a country visit in Vietnam and acknowledged the tight control that the Government exercises on religious communities. He noted that autonomy and activities of independent religious or belief communities, that is unrecognized communities, remained restricted and unsafe. As a result, he commented in his report, the rights to freedom of religion or belief of such communities are grossly violated in the face of constant surveillance, intimidation, harassment and persecution. During his country visit, the UN Special Rapporteur had to prematurely put an end to his mission because of serious incidents of intimidation and cases of a blatant breach of the principle of confidentiality.[8]

[1] For more religious statistics, see https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom/vietnam/
[2] https://the88project.org/update-on-political-prisoner-phan-van-thu-from-his-family-march-2020/
[3] https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4df9ef982.pdf
[4] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hoa-Hao-Vietnamese-religious-movement
[5] Our Database is updated on a regular basis, and so for more details about imprisoned Buddhists, see https://hrwf.eu/prisoners-database/
[6] https://www.unodc.org/res/cld/document/vnm/penal-code_html/Vietnam_Penal_Code_1999.pdf
[7] Joint Motion for a Resolution, European Parliament, November 14, 2018, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/RC-8-2018-0526_EN.html
[8] Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (30 January 2015), Heiner Bielefeldt, Mission to Viet Nam (21 to 31 July 2014)




In the shadow of the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement, increased human rights violations

HRWF/ THE 88 Project (08.06.2020) – The National Assembly of Vietnam has ratified a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU), which over the next 10 years will cut or eliminate 99 per cent of tariffs on trade between the two sides.

 

Lawmakers of the Vietnamese Parliament approved the Europe-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which will come into effect in July.

 

Negotiations between the EU and Vietnam began in 2012 but remained stalled for several years over the latter”s refusal to accept human rights and environmental clauses.

 

Political Prisoners (The 88 Project)

Dinh Van Phu

On May 13, the Provincial Security Investigation Agency completed the investigation of Dinh Van Phu. Phu was arrested in January and charged with “Propagating information and documents against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” according to Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. No trial date has been set yet. He was arrested for using various Facebook pages to post and share articles on political issues, broadcasting live-stream reports, and participating in live broadcasts organized by other organizations, the content of which was deemed by the authorities to be “anti-state.” He also reportedly participated in the June 2018 national protests against the draft laws on Cybersecurity and Special Economic Zones, together with Duong Thi Lanh, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in August 2019 for propaganda against the state.

 

Le Dinh Chuc

 

Almost five months after the raid on Dong Tam Commune, which led to local land rights leader Le Dinh Kinh’s death, as well as the arrests of dozens of other community members, those arrested are still being denied visits from their families. The authorities are also restricting what supplies they can receive. Twenty-nine people have been arrested in the aftermath of the raid. Le Dinh Chuc, one of Le Dinh Kinh’s sons, was injured in the raid and initially paralyzed on one side of his body. However, his lawyer reports that his condition is now improving. Dong Tam Commune is the site of a long running conflict between local authorities and the local residents over the usage of the traditionally agricultural land. Read testimony from the raid on January 9, 2020, here.

 

Chau Van Kham

 

Neither his family nor the Australian government has had contact with jailed Australian retiree Chau Van Kham in over four months. Kham is serving a 12-year prison sentence and is dealing with a myriad of health issues, such as glaucoma, high blood pressure, and kidney stones– all likely exacerbated by prison conditions. His son, Dennis, said of his current condition: “My father is of old age now without any forms of communication to the outside world, I worry not only for his health but his mental state … it frightens me how he’s doing inside. He’s now on a long journey until his release with no support from the Australian government at all, it seems like they’ve forgotten about him.” Kham was recently transferred to a new prison and hasn’t been allowed to see his sister, who had been providing him with some supplies and medication, since February.

 

The Australian consulate has been unable to visit due to restrictions in place from COVID19. It is unclear whether they will be permitted to visit him in June.

 

Birthdays and the arrest and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

  • Phan Kim Khanh, birthday June 3, student activist and blogger, sentenced to six years in prison
  • Nguyen Quang Tuy, driver and Build-Operate-Transfer toll protester, tried June 3, 2019, and sentenced to two years in prison
  • Phan Cong Hai, birthday June 5, blogger sentenced to five years in prison
  • Nguyen Trung Truc, birthday June 6, member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, sentenced to 12 years in prison
  • Nguyen Ngoc Anh, engineer and activist, tried June 6, 2019, and sentenced to six years in prison

Community at Risk

 

Conflict broke out last week at a Taiwanese company in Binh Duong Province that makes shoes for Adidas as workers went on strike to protest impending layoffs as a result of the pandemic’s economic toll. Workers went on a five-day strike starting on May 26. Over 10,000 participated in the strike, and the local authorities arrested four participants. In addition, a pregnant worker reportedly fainted when the police used a stun gun on her during the protest. The company claims that it will be offering support to workers during the layoffs, and it said that the layoffs will only be temporary. However, the lack of communication around these new policies appears to have played a role in the unrest this week. Management announced it will notify workers about these support policies by June 20; in response to this, the workers ended their strike and resumed working. Another strike associated with different Taiwanese-owned company happened in Binh Duong on June 2 over issues with severance pay

 

Freedom of Publication

 

On June 3, the International Publisher’s Association (IPA), in a virtual ceremony, announced that the Liberal Publishing House (Nhà xuất bản Tự Do) has won the 2020 Prix Voltaire Award. The chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee said of the LPH: “The work of Liberal Publishing House in Vietnam as guerilla publishers, making books available in a climate of intimidation and risk for their own personal safety is nothing short of inspirational.” The LPH motto is: “We write for you to read, (Vietnam).” They were among four nominees shortlisted for the award.

Pham Doan Trang

 

Pham Doan Trang, spokesperson for the LPH, sent a video message acknowledging the win, saying, “The award that we receive today does not just recognize our tireless efforts but it represents the bravery of tens of thousands of Vietnamese readers who have been harassed, and who have been arrested and interrogated simply for reading our books.”

Watch the full message, hereThe Liberal Publishing House has faced near constant harassment from the Vietnamese authorities– including arrests of and physical attacks against its employees, distributors, and buyers– since its inception in 2019. Despite this, the LPH has distributed over 25,000 books. Just hours before LPH received its award, on the morning of June 3 2020, two officers of the Security Investigation Agency of the Ministry of Public Security went to Trang’s house in Hanoi to meet with her mother, Bui Thi Thien Can. Can is 80 years old. However, despite this, two officers forced her to participate in their interrogation with questions about Trang’s whereabouts and communication between the two. They forced her to sign a statement saying that Trang has produced and distributed “anti-state” materials.

 

International Advocacy

 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, last week released a statement urging Asian Pacific countries to improve protections for freedom of expression and to make sure that their response to fake information amidst the pandemic is “proportionate.” She cited arrests over online posts related to the pandemic in many countries, including Vietnam. “This crisis should not be used to restrict dissent or the free flow of information and debate. A diversity of viewpoints will foster greater understanding of the challenges we face and help us better overcome them,” she said.

Last week, The 88 Project published an article analyzing how Vietnamese authorities are utilizing the pandemic to normalize the practices of a police state. For instance, in Ha Giang Province, three teachers were fined around 10 million Dong (approximately US$450) for simply saying “The outbreak is out of control!,” along with posting some photographs of Vietnamese patients in a quarantine area. According to the security forces, these posts caused “unnecessary panic” among the public. They also asserted that this was fake news because the photographs were from different provinces, and not Ha Giang.

 

See the pictures of the political prisoners at https://the88project.org/




40 NGOs call upon Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about freedom of religion in Vietnam

HRWF signed the Open Letter to US Secretary of State

 

HRWF (25.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/2zoGFnC

Dear Secretary Pompeo,

We, representatives of concerned multi-faith organizations and individuals, write to urge your Department to publicly and privately call on the Vietnamese government to:

  • Allow all independent religious organizations to freely conduct religious activities and independently govern themselves. Churches and denominations that do not choose to join one of the officially authorized religious organizations with government-sanctioned boards should be allowed to operate independently.
  • End harassment, arrests, persecution, imprisonment, and ill treatment of followers of independent religions, and release those detained for peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of religion, belief, expression, assembly, and association.
  • Ensure that all domestic legislation addressing religious affairs is brought into conformity with international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); amend provisions in domestic law that impinge on freedom of religion and belief, expression, association, or peaceful assembly in violation of the ICCPR.

Vietnam prescribes a multistage process for a religious organization to receive recognition. Under a new law, an independent religious organization must obtain a certificate of registration for religious activities from the provincial-level Committee of Religious Affairs. The new law prohibits sowing division among “the national great unity, harm state defense, national security, public order, and social morale.” This “national unity” catchphrase has been the basis for the suppression and harassment of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and many other independent religions.

In this new law, under article 32, candidates for religious appointments must “have the spirit of national unity and harmony” while under article 37 religious education must include “Vietnamese history and Vietnamese law” as core subjects.

Without freedom of religion for those religions independent from the government, there is no true freedom of religion. Systematic, ongoing, egregious suppression of religious freedom warrants the designation of a country of particular concern. Therefore, we support USCIRF’s call to place Vietnam back on the CPC list under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998.

Sincerely,

ORGANZIATIONS

HRWF Comment: See the full list of signatories at https://bit.ly/2zoGFnC