Hanoi (AsiaNews/UCAN) Vietnam is imposing new restrictions on religious freedom. The Ordinance on Beliefs and Religionswhich was adopted on June 18 by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly will come into effect on November 15. It regulates religious activities as well those related to ancestor worship.
The text reaffirms the constitutional principle that guarantees religious freedom. The first article of the ordinance declares: "Citizens have freedom of belief and religion, to adopt or not to adopt a religion." However, the significance of the principle is circumscribed by the other articles, which "permit" various activities on condition that they receive government "authorisation".
Government control is exercised at district, provincial and national levels. The first two are under the jurisdiction of People's Committees; the third falls to the Office of religious Affairs and the Prime Minister.
Control is also exercised through the Vietnam Fatherland Front whose members are duty-bound to "encourage ecclesiastics, religious, believers, belief followers, religious organizations and people to carry out laws on belief and religion" and "take part in building and supervising the implementation of policies and laws on belief and religion ».
The government exerts its control over religious activities by virtue of its power to:
- recognise and register every organisation through its agencies for Religious Affairs. This also applies to "congregations, convents and other analogous forms of collective religious life";
- authorise through the Prime Minister's Office educational institutions that train religious personnel. School curriculum, extra school programmes and admission are the prerogative of the government and must include the history and laws of Vietnam as mandatory subjects;
- authorise annually planned activities and initiatives. Events not in the plan must be approved by government agencies for religious affairs. The same principle applies to parties, observances, congresses and conferences;
- approve all forms of ecumenism, collaboration, unification, scission among and between religious organisations as well as the transfer and allocation of religious personnel;
- evaluate the moral and civic character of candidates for ordination, promotions and appointment within the various religious hierarchies, which are regulated according to the "codes and procedures" of each community";
- authorise the publication, printing and circulation of religious material. Manufacturing and sale of objects for worship and religious activities must conform to government regulations;
- allow preaching only in places of worship which are designated by government authorities;
- confiscate property, if the lands where religious buildings stand are not regularly and permanently used.
Religious freedom in Vietnam could be suspended on the following grounds:
- threats to national unity: The clergy is required to teach believers to respect the fatherland and its laws;
- threats to national security and public order;
- threats to life, dignity, honour and property;
The Ordinance encourages religious communities to provide care for children, the sick, the poor and the disabled, but always in accordance with government regulations.
The Ordinance states that anyone who spent time in prison for religious reasons and who has purged his or her sentence can engage in religious activities such as prayers, evangelisation, observances only on the condition that government agencies for Religious Affairs approve.
Vietnam has a population of 78 million people, which includes 52 million Buddhist, 7 million Christians and 4 million members of the Cao-Dai sect. Officially, Catholics are 6 million. (MA)
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