THE TRUTH - JUSTICE - LOVE
Do Minh Tuyen
In the context of religious persecution in Vietnam serious now ... and during religious freedom of the people of Vietnam has been trampled rudely by Vietnam's communist authorities , we would like to send to all people in Vietnam and abroad and International . .. The voice of the Religious dignitaries Vietnam regarding religious freedom ... to broad public opinion ... as well as provide all information truthfully and accurately about the current status of religious freedom in Vietnam actually ... desired so that all the people of Vietnam and abroad and the International Community ... better understanding and more accurate in all matters relating to religious freedom in Vietnam so long .
Statement of Vietnam’s Clergies
Concerning the Ordinance on Religion and Belief of 2004 and the 2012 Decree on Directives and Measures for Implementing the Ordinance on Religion and Belief
Respectfully submitted to:
- Officials in Vietnam’s government (Executive Branch and National Assembly)
- Members of the clergies and religious orders, and adherents of the various faiths, including Christianity, Buddhism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Cao Dai religion, and others.
- The other citizens of Vietnam
- The governments of all democratic countries
- The UN Human Rights Commission and all international human rights organizations
- News media in Vietnam and the rest of the world.
We, representatives of the clergies of various religions in Vietnam:
1- In consideration of the following: The Communist Party and its members in the government of Vietnam: (a) view religion as the opium that misleads the people and harms society (Karl Marx’s teaching), and (b) want to have absolute control over the minds and activities of all the Vietnamese people by forcing everyone to follow the regime’s own rules and commands, regardless of higher principles. Therefore the regime has always treated the various religions as its mortal enemies,and intends to destroy them, using both force and administrative measures. The regime always uses both means concurrently, changing its emphasis on each as the situation dictates. The current administrative measures are based on the Ordinance on Religion and Belief (Ordinance No. 21) issued by the National Assembly on 06-18-2004 and Decree on Directives and Measures for Implementing the Ordinance on Religion an Belief (Decree No. 92 updating Decree No. 22) issued by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on 11-09-2012.
2- In consideration of the following: The regime learned from its experience with Mr. Ho Chi Minh’s Decree on Religion (Decree No. 234 issued on 06-14-1955), Mr. Pham Van Dong’s Decree on Religion (Decree No. 297 issued on 11-11-1997), and Mr. Phan Van Khai’s Decree on Religion (Decree No. 22 issued on 03-01-2005). Consequently, its latest ordinance, Ordinance No. 21, and its latest decree, Decree No. 92, are more sophisticated and repressive as they cover all five pillars of any religious organization: legal status, human resources, operation, property, and international activities.
a- Legal Status: the regime has never granted to any legitimate religious organization the same legal status as other (non-religious) organizations (both the latest ordinance and decree fail to mention the legal status of religious organizations). Without this status, religious organizations cannot engage in routine transactions such as opening a bank account or buying and owning property, a major barrier to normal operation. Furthermore, as religious organizations’ bank accounts or properties can only be registered under the names of private citizens, they are easier targets of confiscation and other infringement by the regime or individuals associated with the organizations.
The regime allows religious organizations to register for operation (without being recognized as legal entities), but only under draconian restrictions (Articles 5 – 8, Decree 92). The regime has complete control over the religious organizations’ right to operate and existence. Currently, the regime has outlawed several religious organizations, including the Unified Buddhist Church, the Original Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, the Orthodox Cao Dai Church, and evangelical churches such as Mennonite or Lutheran. The regime violently represses the banned churches while supporting its own creations, government-controlled religious organizations which are the regime’s tools for sabotaging the legitimate churches and misleading its citizens and the international community about the real state of religious freedom in Vietnam.
b- Human Resources (adherents, members of religious orders, clergy). The national identity card lists a citizen’s religious belief (no other country requires this from a citizen). This promotes rampant discrimination. No religious adherent has been promoted to senior positions in the government, army, academia, state enterprises, etc. Clearly, the regime treats religious adherents as second class citizens, contradicting Article 29 in the document on proposed constitutional amendments.
Religious Orders – The ordinance requires the administrator of every monastery to register any new members with the local government at the village level; Article 13 of the decree requires that the monastery wait until the appropriate government unit has approved before it admits a new member. This grants the government the authority to deny individuals seeking to join a monastery and, effectively, the authority to allow any monastery to function.
Clergy – Based on Articles 3-10 of the ordinance, Article 19 of the decree state clearly: “The religious organization that appoints, promotes, elects, or designates these officials must send the registration application [request for approval] to the government’s oversight office”. This effectively allows the regime to have a say in all personnel appointments within the churches, guaranteeing that only persons acceptable to the regime will become members of the clergy.
Before completing their religious training in seminaries, seminarians must complete courses on the history and laws of Vietnam (Article 24 of the ordinance and Article 14-2 of the decree). As these required courses basically cover the history and principles of Communism and the Communist Party; the regime intends to drill its doctrine into seminarians and turn future clergy members into meek collaborators.
c- Operation, Article 17-35 of the ordinance list 14 categories of activities. Articles 5-41 of the decree specify that the organization must register (seek approval) and may not engage in any activity absent official approval. The regime forces the churches to seek approval but reserves for itself the right to deny, subject to its review of the “political attitude” of the individuals being considered and the organization seeking approval. The regime used the words “register” 18 times in the ordinance and 74 times in the decree, “prescribed” 37 times in the ordinance and 69 times in the decree, “prescribed by law” 14 times in the ordinance and 9 times in the decree, and “must state the reason for denial” 18 times in the decree.
The 14 categories of activities can be grouped under two broad headings, 1. Purely religious activities internal to each religious organization, and, 2. A religion’s external activities, i.e., involving social elements. The regime has interfered countless times with those two broad categories of activities from 1975 on. The regime has threatened, harassed, assaulted, detained, or placed under restricted movement status many adherents, clergy members, and members of religious orders who tried to conduct legitimate religious activities, not counting those who merely advocated for genuine human rights and democracy in Vietnam.
Within the previously listed categories of activities that the regime controls, a number of activities are related to human rights and political rights, e.g., the religions are forbidden from having their own publishing capabilities, radio and TV stations, webpages, or time on government radio and TV, even when the public (among whom are adherents of the religions) pays for the government media through taxes. The bottom line is that the churches: (a) may not communicate to the public their religious teachings even when such teachings are intended to improve society; or, (b) establish and operate schools from the elementary level through university level; or, (c) establish and run orphanages, clinics, hospitals, retirement homes, etc.
d- Property, Article 26 of the ordinance states: “Legitimate property belonging to religious organizations is fully protected under the law”. However, the Constitution is premised upon the State owning all land, and in several legal documents, the regime has inserted indefensible clauses concerning property belonging to religious organizations. For example, on 12-31-2008, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued Directive No. 1940 in which instructed local governments to “swallow up” church properties that the Communists had already seized in past decades, from 1954 on. The regime took not only real property, but also liquid assets. Moreover, the regime forbids religious organizations from buying or accepting donated real estate in order to prevent any possible expansion of their activities.
e- International Activities, Articles 34-37 of the ordinance and Articles 37-41 of the decree regulate the international activities of the churches, their clergies, and other adherents. Again, the model is “subject to the regime’s approval”. For example, when the Vatican promotes a Vietnamese priest to bishop, it must have the regime’s approval of the proposed individual. At times, the government approved none of the Vatican’s nominees. In addition, when clergy members apply to travel abroad for any reason (tourism, religious training, or research), they must meet with public security agents in charge of religious affairs to be coached on what not to do abroad (e.g., may not meet certain individuals or representatives of certain organizations, may not say negative things about the regime, etc.) From the time the regime first allows its citizens to travel abroad, it has exercised ruthless control of any dealing with foreign churches. Clergy members whom the regime blacklists on account of their advocacy for religious freedom and basic human rights always meet with considerable difficulties when applying for a passport, and some have not got any approval. Conversely, if the regime let some of those advocates leave the country, the regime may prevent them from returning to Vietnam. The regime has also denied entry to foreign charitable entities wishing to come to Vietnam and work in a number of localities The regime has attempted to have its agents infiltrate religious groups among overseas Vietnamese communities in an attempt to turn them against domestic churches that the regime dislike. Particularly, the regime had requested the Vatican to take action against specific individuals or groups who had been a thorn in the regime’s side, when such individuals or groups merely tried to seek justice and democracy or religious freedom.
Based on the previously-cited considerations, we, representing the clergies of several religions in Vietnam, affirm the following:
1- The Communist regime has been using Ordinance No. 21 and Decree No. 92 in a manner that goes against the 1992 Constitution, i.e., not to protect the people’s religious freedom, but to:
- maintain the mode “subject to official approval” in the regime’s dealings with religion (the regime no longer uses this mode vis-à-vis a number of non-religious entities) out of the regime’s desire to control all religious life.
- turn religions and their organizations into the regime’s instruments for propaganda or silent entities that do not criticize the regime for the harm it has done to Vietnamese society.
- prevent the religions and their organizations from working as true civil society components (independent of the government) when civil society is more urgently needed than ever to turn Vietnam into a democratic country.
2- By their nature, religions are part of civil society and their adherents are citizens with the same rights as the other Vietnamese. The churches and their adherents have human rights and responsibilities that the Constitution guarantees and international covenants proclaim. Therefore the regime must rescind all ordinances, decrees, orders, etc. aimed solely at religion and beliefs because these are intended to repress and discriminate. We believe that we are under no obligation to abide by the unjustified regulations
3- Genuine religious freedom does not exist even when there are impressive places of worship, large religious celebrations, and ease of foreign travel for certain groups of clergy and adherents, as long as the regime represses other religious entities that it considers as having issues with the government. Genuine religious freedom exists only: when a government truly acknowledges the fundamental rights of religious organizations (such rights are not subject to “official approval”), i.e., (a) legal status; (b) true autonomy in their internal affairs; (c) freedom to disseminate their faith within their places of worship and outside, within their religious communities and outside, through the use of media (books, periodicals, radio, TV, etc.); (d) participating in educational activities at all levels; (e) participating in charitable and social activities; (f) their adherents not being prevented from merit-based promotions to high-level positions.
4- The regime must immediately and unconditionally: (a) release all prisoners of conscience, including those clergy, members of religious orders, and adherents detained for advocating religious freedom or basic human rights; (b) return intangible assets to the churches (e.g., operational independence, freedom from government interference) and tangible property and other assets. This will enable us to contribute to the rebuilding of Vietnamese society and serve our people.
Vietnam, October 4, 2013
- Mr. Lê Quang Liêm, Leader, Hoa Hao Buddhist Church (tel. 0199.243.2593)
- Most Ven. Thích Không Tánh, Buddhist Church (0165.6789.881)
- Rev. Peter Phan Văn Lợi, Catholic Church (0984.236.371)
- Rev. Joseph Đinh Hữu Thoại, Catholic Church (0935.569.205)
- Rev. Anthony Lê Ngọc Thanh, Catholic Church (0993.598.820)
- Elder Hứa Phi, Cao Dai Church (0163.3273.240)
- Elder Nguyễn Kim Lân, Cao Dai Church (0988.971.117)
- Elder Nguyễn Bạch Phụng, Cao Dai Church (0988.477.719)
- Pastor Nguyễn Hoàng Hoa (0949.275.827)
- Pastor Hồ Hữu Hoàng (0902.761.057)
- Pastor Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng (0906.342.908)
- Mr. Phan Tấn Hòa, Hoa Hao Buddhist Church (0162.630.1082)
- Pastor Lê Quang Du, (0121.200.2001)
- Mr. Trần Nguyên Hưởn, Hoa Hao Buddhist Church (0167.341.0139)
- Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn (0162.838.7716)
Translation by http://dvov.org
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