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Religious Freedom in Viet Nam By Rev. Peter Giai and Rev. Peter Loi To USCIRF
Rev. Peter Nguyen Huu Giai and Peter Phan Van Loi

Religious Freedom in Viet Nam
Rev Peter Nguyen Huu Giai and Rev Peter Phan Van Loi
To the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)

In Viet Nam nowadays, basic human and civil rights are listed sufficiently in the Constitution. But they are almost defined vaguely or inadequately, restricted or rescinded by statutes, edicts, decrees and resolutions. In other words, they don't exist in real life for the real citizens.

1- In theory.

In religious matter, you can see now in Viet Nam, many places of worship built, many ceremonies organized, many representatives of the religious supreme authority going inside or abroad to study or participate in conferences, many religious institutes opened. All these, naturally, with the permission and under the control of the government. But according to our opinion, religious freedom doesn’t consist in building churches or pagodas, in organising religious festivities, in welcoming religious dignitaries, in going abroad, even in opening the seminaries (such as propagandized by the Vietnamese Communist regime). All these liberties are external and secondary.

We think that real religious freedom essentially consist of the following:

- the liberty of founding the religion, church or congregation, without the permission or the sanction but only with the recognition of the government, which must recognize this religion or church or religious organisation after its registration.

- the independence of the churches to establish their structures, to recruit, to train their personnel, to ordain, to promote, to transfer their clerics, to designate or to appoint their hierarchies and leaders.

- the promulgation of the religion to the people, the participation of the churches in the life of the society- by establishing and managing the schools of all grade levels, from nurseries to universities, by owning and running press, radio, television, website, publication house, and by founding and managing centers of charitable activities, such as medical clinics and hospitals.

Regretfully, all the Churches in VN don’t have these liberties. They are annuled by the Ordinance on Religion and Belief issued in November 2004, the Decree of Implementation of this Ordinance issued in March 2005, the 15 Administrative Procedures issues in July 2007 and by the arbitrary will of local authorities who are all atheist and anti-religious. These legal texts control, threaten and limit the religions in five essential elements: statute, personnel, activities, finance, connections. For us, these texts constitute a measure to repress the religion by law. They easily make illegal all our activities and degenerate gradually our religion. According to the Cardinal Pham Minh Man, the Ordinance on Religion and Belief is not for the churches but for the communist party.

2- Some examples

- At the present time, the Vietnamese Communist government only accepts 16 religious organizations that belong to 6 main religions (Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Caodaism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Islamism) while the number of registered religious organizations are very much greater. The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam of the Venerable Thich Quang Do, the Pure Hoa Hao Buddhists of Mr Le Quang Liem, the Mennonite Protestant Church of the pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, the Vietnamese People’s Evangelical Fellowship of the pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh… are “outlaws” and are constantly persecuted.

- In June 6, 2007, the Communist Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed the Decision No 83/2007 QD-TTg. It lays down as a policy the training of 22.000 cadres specializing in religious matter. The main duty of these cadres will consist in watching, reporting, infiltrating, rigging and controlling the Churches. The communist government want to paralyze or weaken the capacity of resistance of religions against the evil, social injustice caused by the regime, and finally to change religions into tools for the tyranical regime.

- Utilizing the communist ideology to train future religious leaders, the communist government forces the seminarians (futures priests) to study the Marxism, the history of the Communist Party and the legislation of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. These subjects are among the most important in the curriculum of the seminary, and the high mark in them is the condition to be ordained priest. The study of materialist and atheist theory in tandem with the study of humanist and theist theory will paralyze or make degenerate the conscience of the futurs spiritual leaders. In fact, very few vietnamese priests plunge into the fight for religious freedom and democracy.

- Mischievously, the communist government interferes in the appointment of the high-ranking dignitaries. That led to the choice and the consecration, in Vietnamese Catholic Church, of many bishops not totally to the standard of the Church. A disastrous aftermatch: two bishops in power must resign their post as pastors. That is the case of the bishop Nguyen Van Yen, diocesis of Phat Diem, and the bishop Nguyen Tich Duc, diocesis of Ban Me Thuot. This didn’t happen in the Catholic church before 1975. In general case, vietnamese archbishops and bishops prove rather indifferent to many iniquities in the society.

- The recent pastoral letter of the Vietnamese Bishops’ Conference (12-10-2007) complains: “The door of the education remains closed to the religious organizations in Viet Nam: the religions have only the right to open kindergarten as private school. Although exerting itself to the utmost to do all the permissible to realize its mission in the world, such as opening charitables classes, founding scholarship fund for poor or disabled pupils, the Catholic Church, as a religious organization, resigns itself to stand on the margin of the educational cause and, because of lacking the right to take part, resigns to play the role of a reluctant observer”. This statement denounces a grave violation of human rights. The religions have the role of bringing the moral, spiritual values to the society by the predication and the education. To obstruct the Churches in taking part in the education is one of the causes of the tragic degeneration of the Vietnamese education and of the degradation of the Vietnamese youth.

- Many religious dignitaries continue to be gaoled (such as the priest Nguyen Van Ly, the pastor Nguyen Van Dai [newly ordained]…), kept under house arrest (the bonzes Thich Huyen Quang, Thich Quang Do and Thich Thien Hanh, the religious chief Le Quang Liem, the priest Phan Van Loi…), harassed (the pastors Nguyen Hong Quang and Nguyen Cong Chinh, the bonzes Thich Khong Tanh and Thich Minh Nguyet…). Many believers are gaoled (such as members of the Hoa Hao Buddhism: Le Van Tinh, Bui Tan Nha, Nguyen Van Dien, Vo Van Thanh Liem, Vo Van Buu, Mai Thi Dung, Nguyen Thanh Phong, Nguyen Thi Ha, To Van Manh, Nguyen Thanh Long, Nguyen Van Thuy, Nguyen Van Tho, Duong Thi Tron, Le Van Soc…). The Montagnard Foundation, Inc, in USA, in a bulletin dated 20-10-2007 (Latest death of Degar Montagnard house Church Christian), announced: “01 October 2007 a Degar House Church Christian Preacher man named Siu Blok died from torture by Vietnamese authorities. He was videotaped giving an illegal prayer blessing and reported to police by another religious group who is sanctioned by the government. It is Vietnam's plan to "divide and conquer" the independent house Churches” (see document attached)

- The churches can’t have press, radio, television, house of publication as private properties. The weekly Cong giao van Dan toc (Catholicism and Nation) and the weekly Nguoi Cong giao Viet Nam (Vietnamese Catholics) are the information services of the Communist Party of VN. The bulletin Hiep Thong (Communion) of the Vietnamese Bishops’ Conference can only issue 6 numbers per year, 100 copies per number for 6.000.000 catholics. The catholics books printed are under 100 titles per year and must be printed by the house of publication of the state. The basic information document of the Catholic Church (Catholic Church’s Year-book 2005) was censored strictly by the government, so that it was not entirely welcome and trusted by the believers and by the researchers.

- The properties of the religions (lands, establisments such as university, school, orphanage, infimaries…) confiscated by the government since 1975, even since recent years, are not yet given back to theirs proprietors. (see documents attached).

3- Proposal to USCIRF

From George Washington to Abraham Lincoln, from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush, democracy is the ideal of the people and the government of the United States. Therefore, we wish that in seeking the occasions for business in our country, the US government would always push up the process of democratization in VN. For us, the great benefit you can bring to our people is the democratization rather than the capitalization. At the present time, the process of capitalization is creating many red capitalists and innumerable destitute people. Without the democratization, we haven’t for ever freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of belief, religion, freedom of assembly, association and other democratic freedoms. And therefore, no real economic development.

The maintenance of designating Vietnam as a country of particular concern (CPC) is just and worthy of praise. We hope that many measures will be soon applied to promote religious freedom and also political freedom in VN./.

Rev. Peter Nguyen Huu Giai and Peter Phan Van Loi

* Ý Kiến Độc Giả