Fears over new restrictions on religious freedom in Vietnam

December 14, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

New restrictions on religious freedom are coming into force in Vietnam in the New Year, sparking concerns that Christian groups will face more harassment from the authorities.

Churches in Vietnam are supposed to register with the government

Churches in Vietnam are supposed to register with the government

Vietnam, December 11, 2012: Decree 92, which takes effect on 1 January 2013, has been slammed as a “backward” measure by a Hanoi-based Christian leader, who called on the government to “respect the rights of citizens”. It adds to the Ordinance on Beliefs and Religion governing religious practice in Vietnam.

Religious activity is already strictly controlled inVietnam; all churches and other religious groups are supposed to register with the government and submit to its direction. Unregistered house churches, particularly those in the hill-tribe areas, are subjected to a great deal of harassment and hostility from the authorities. Churches have been closed, members arrested and hundreds sentenced to long prison terms.

The new Decree 92 measures have sparked alarm among the Christian and Buddhist communities, which both have groups that are not recognised by the government. They include procedures by which religious organisations can register their activities and places of worship, and leaders can apply for official recognition.

Vague terminology is used, arousing fears that this will allow the authorities to make accusations of generalised violations.

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

But as this charge is often applied to any activity that the Vietnamese government wants to suppress, especially unregistered Christian gatherings, it is unlikely that such groups will qualify for registration under the new rules, and thus they will continue to face state harassment.

Under another clause of the decree, religious leaders will need to obtain the permission of the authorities for foreign travel to conferences.

At a recent meeting of senior Vietnamese government officials and their Chinese counterparts, Tong Thi Phong, Vice President of the Vietnamese Parliament, said: “Vietnamwill increasingly model itself on China in matters of religious policies.”

Both countries exercise a high degree of control over religious practice, requiring groups to register and interfering in their affairs; the authorities subject those who do not to various abuses and difficulties.

– barnabas team

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