02/11/2016, 13.41
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Despite persecution, the desire for religious freedom is growing

In a challenge to the authorities, an activist group, the Association for the Defence of Religious Liberty, releases a report on violations of religious freedom in 2014 and 2015 affecting Protestants, Catholics (Redemptorists, Sisters) and non-official Buddhists. The country’s proposed new religious legislation is criticised as a step backward in terms of freedom and rights.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/EDA) – Over the past two years, Vietnam’s Communist authorities have committed dozens of violations and attacks on religious freedom, at both the central and local level, affecting in various ways, the country’s Catholic, Protestant and non-official Buddhist communities, a recent report indicates.

The detailed study that challenges government censorship and repression is based on quarterly surveys made in 2014 and 2015 by an activist group, the ‘Association for the Defence of Religious Freedom, which includes members of civil society groups led by north Vietnamese Catholics. 

According to the report’s findings released on 5 February, the one-party Communist Asian nation has only 14 different religions and 38 religious organisations.

Out of a population of 90 million, 24 million are religious believers with about 78,000 "dignitaries" (clergy) who live in more than 23,000 places of worship scattered across the country.

After the official statistics, the report’s authors cite the main violations of religious freedom committed in Vietnam in 2014 and 2015: 11 incidents in the first quarter of 2014, 14 in the second, 14 others in the third and 11 in the fourth. In 2015, the government committed some 50 violations.

Protestants are the most affected, particularly among ethnic minorities (like the Montagnards who have been persecuted for their collaboration with the United States during the Vietnam War), as well as smaller communities denied the permit to worship.

Another issue relates to ownership of land and places of worship, something especially important for Catholics who have been involved in long-running legal battles with national and local authorities.

More specifically, 2015 saw the Redemptorists subject threats, abuses, and seizures, as was the case for Ba Giang pond and Thai Ha convent. Other sites targeted were the Benedictine monastery in Thiên An, near Hue, and the Congregation of the Sisters Lovers of the Holy Cross of Thu Thiem, in Ho Chi Minh City (ex Saigon).

Buddhists too suffered from expropriations, like in the case of Liên Tri pagoda.

Such violations of religious freedom flout Vietnam’s 2013 constitution, which protects, among other rights, religious freedom.

At the same time, by signing and ratifying international treaties, the Vietnamese government pledged to respect a series of rights, including freedom of worship.

Last year, the Vietnamese parliament consulted religious groups as part of the process of revamping the country’s religious legislation, a step Catholic leaders criticised because the draft bill represented a serious step backward with respect to religious freedom.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam also spoke out on the issue, releasing a statement in which it presented its criticism, listing its objections to what it believes are violations in the proposed legislation.

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