11/30/2012, 00.00
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Buddhist group slams Hanoi for squeeze on religious freedom

The Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) warns that a new government decree, set to take effect on 1 January, imposes greater controls on worship. It gives the authorities a "wider margin of manoeuvre" to go after those who refuse to follow the rules.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The new rules imposed by Vietnam's Communist party gives the state greater powers to suppress religious freedom and believers' rights, this according to Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB). Decree 92 is cause for "great concern" because it restricts citizens' rights and gives the authorities a "wider margin of manoeuvre" against all those who refuse to submit to the directives of the one-party state.

The decree provides a "veneer of legality to a policy of religious repression, planned at the highest levels of the Communist Party and state". It "aims to crush all independent movements and place religions under strict [. . .] party control," the IBIB noted in a press statement.

The decree lays out the procedures religious organisations must follow to apply for official recognition or to register their activities, places of worship, and clerics if they want to operate openly.

In Vietnam, where religious activity has been strictly monitored for decades, the government recognises 31 religious organisations representing 11 different religions, including Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao traditions.

However, some groups, such as Christian house churches or the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam that is affiliated with the IBIB, are banned, prevented from operating because they are outside of the law.

The decree Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed on 8 November will take effect on 1 January.

With this new law, Vietnam wants "to implement the Vietnamese Communist Party's directives to increase state management of religious affairs," the IBIB said.

Although not recognised by the government, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has been the main Buddhist organisation in south-central Vietnam since 1975 when the government took over all its assets and bodies.

In 1981, following its refusal to submit to the Communist party, the government dissolved the Church and replaced with a state-controlled Vietnamese Buddhist Church. The UBCV has never acknowledged its authority and has never stopped its own religious activities.

During the 1990s, many monks were arrested. The Church's 'Supreme Patriarch,' Thich Huyen Quang (who died in July 2008) received many threats for his opposition to the government and spent many periods of time under house arrest at his pagoda.

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