Threats to religious freedom undermine Vietnam’s Communist Party
by Nguyen Hung
Despite its “liberal” claims, Vietnam continues to repress and threaten religious minorities in an attempt to control their activities. Regardless of this, the Catholic Church remains committed to Rome, whilst oppression and injustice by the Communist Party undermines the trust people had in government. This is jeopardising the whole system.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The Vietnamese Church took the opportunity offered by Lent to reiterated its fidelity to the Catholic Church and Pope Francis. Some Vietnamese Catholics told AsiaNews, “We continue to believe in God and in the Church. We pray for Vietnam’s Catholic communities. If we are not in communion with the Church, we are not Catholics."

The situation of the Catholic Church in Vietnam (as well as other religions) is complex and delicate, because both believers and clergy have had to deal with Communist state control since the country’s reunification in 1976.

In 2013, the authorities adopted Decree 92, which adds a veneer of openness, but facts tell a different story. Indeed, the Catholic Church as well as other religious groups (like the unrecognised Buddhist Union) have dismissed claims that the government has enhanced religious freedom in the country.

For most believers, the recent changes adopted by the Communist Party represent just another attempt to control the activities of local religious communities.

Even Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN special envoy for religious freedom, touched upon the issue last August when he warned, “There are serious violations of religious freedom in Vietnam.”

Local governments are especially at fault. They regularly attack religious groups (Catholic Church, the Buddhist Union, traditional Hoa Hao and Cao Đài sects, etc.). By force and threats, they limit the freedom of expression and censor the press.

Religious leaders of various denominations are unanimous in saying that "the biggest problem is government interference in the internal affairs of religions, such as the appointment or transfer of men or women religious. This causes dangerous divisions among the faithful in Vietnam, and creates conflict between clerics."

Even though Vietnamese authorities continue to tell the international community that religious freedom and respect for human rights have seen progress in the country, a prisoner of conscience told AsiaNews a different story.

“It is evident that the government of Vietnam is violating human rights,” he said. “Not even the National Assembly of Vietnam protects people’s human rights.

“There are more than 100 prisoners of conscience” in the country. “We have experienced this directly.”

“We sent a report to the National Assembly but there was no response either to us or to the people. They should listen to the recommendations, suggestions and complaints coming from the people, but they always ignore them. Perhaps this is the essence of the Assembly National,” which “as a priority serves the Communist Party, not the people.”

Because of this, "In 2014 and in recent months, the Vietnamese Communist Party has increasingly lost credibility with the people,” this according to some 20 Vietnamese civil society organisations.

“Because of government social policies, laws and their application are at odds with each other. Likewise, local governments are increasingly resorting to violence and force, and this is increasingly alienating people."

Speaking to AsiaNews, some experts at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said, "Vietnam has many types of laws, decrees, and social policies, etc., but they are not acted upon. Laws and their implementation are still quite apart in Vietnam. "

Prof Trần Ngọc, of the same university, agrees. "Today one of the causes of violence in Vietnamese society is the fact that people do not believe in the laws of Vietnam. Most people, especially young people, have become aggressive, ready to use violence against violence and to resort to violence to solve social problems.”

On the long run, religious repression and strictly formal adherence to laws could undermine the Communist system, this according to some Vietnamese historians. In view of the “historical development of human civilisations, Communist regimes do not last more than 80 years”.