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Freedom of belief and religion in Vietnam should be objectively assessed

On April 29 2019, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom released its annual report, and later the US Department of State issued its report on international religious freedom 2018 on June 21.

Though acknowledging some progress in the protection of the right to freedom of religion in Vietnam, both reports contained subjective assessment of religious freedom in the country.

The Vietnamese State’s consistent policy is respecting and protecting the freedom of belief and religion as well as non-belief and non-religion of all citizens. This is written into Vietnam's Constitution and laws, and is strictly enforced. 

For the past years, the State of Vietnam has made relentless efforts in improving the legal framework for better protecting the freedom of religion or belief. In the past 15 years, a number of new legal documents have been enacted, including the Ordinance on Belief and Religion 2004, Decree No. 92 guiding the implementation of the Ordinance on Belief and Religion 2012, the Constitution 2013, the Law on Belief and Religion 2016 and its guiding decree No. 162. These policies and laws have always accorded with the international laws, suited the practical conditions in Vietnam.

Thanks to these new legal provisions, important religious events, such as Christmas, Buddha’s Birthday and founding anniversaries of religious organizations, have taken place annually, attracting hundreds of thousands of religious followers. Many of 13,000 festive events annually held in Vietnam are worshipping festivals, and religious festivals have also been regarded by people as cultural events in the country.

Up to now, 43 religious organizations belonging to 16 religions have been recognized by the State, with more that 24 million members, accounting for 27 % of the country population. Vietnam is currently home to 29,000 religious worshipping places with 55,000 religious dignitaries and 145,000 religious deacons.

Since 2004 when the Ordinance on Belief and Religion was enacted, ten more religions with 28 organizations have been recognized by the State, bringing the total number of recognized religious organizations to 43. In addition, there have been thousands of religious groups of Protestantism and other religions have registered their group activities with local authorities.

There is diversity in the numbers of religions that have been recognized. While some religions have millions of adherents, such as Buddhism (14 million), Catholicism (7 million), the Vietnam Church of Latter-day Saints of Jesus Christ only has several hundred members. Having such a religious diversity, there is no religious conflict in Vietnam, and religions the country have co-existed in harmony and proactively got involved in activities for hunger eradication, poverty reduction and other social charities.

Religious training by religious organizations has been greatly expanded. Currently, there are 60 religious training institutions, and many religious dignitaries have received graduation certificates of religious trainings from universities in Myanmar, India, France, the USA, Italy, etc.     

Dignitaries of religions in Vietnam and overseas have been able to take part in international religious events, including international religious conferences and interfaith dialogues, held in foreign countries or Vietnam.

The State of Vietnam has also supported religious organizations in Vietnam in the organization of international religious events in the country, such as the UN Day of Vesak, the 500th anniversary of Protestantism, the 10th General Conference of Asian conferences of Bishops, i.e. which have attracted large numbers of religious dignitaries and believers in Vietnam and from abroad.

Especially, the UN Day of Vesak 2019 hosted by the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha in Tam Chuc Pagoda complex located in the Northern province of Ha Nam drew the participation of 1,650 delegates from 112 countries and territories in the world, and tens of thousands Buddhists from Vietnam and abroad.

Ethnic communities have equally enjoyed freedom of religion according the state law. Islamic and Brahmin communities of Cham ethnic group have set up their own representative committees for facilitating religious practices of the community members; an Khmer Buddhist institute has been established for training Khmer monks; religious scriptures have been printed in ethnic languages for better serving religious needs by ethnic people; Protestant groups in the country’s Northwest and Central Highlands regions have been able to register group activities with local authorities.

These religious achievements in Vietnam have lively demonstrated that the State of Vietnam always respects and safeguards people’s right to freedom of belief and religion.

As in other countries including the USA where activities abusing the right to freedom of belief and religion for individuals’ interests are to be prevented and checked, the competent authorities in Vietnam have also taken measures for preventing and fighting against the abuses of the right to religious freedom and activities taking advantages of religious freedom and causing social disability.

In Vietnam, enacted laws only ban and sentence those abusing religious freedom for violations of laws, and people are entitled to freedom of religious practices at lawful places.

Countries like France and Japan have also promulgated specific legal provisions on religious practices for protecting public interests and social order. Religious extremists are to be closely scrutinized in the US and many other countries where terrorists who have claimed to be followers of religion and carried out brutal attacks for recent years. Law enforcement in world countries always tries to ensure that terrorists regardless of religious backgrounds are to be strictly dealt with.

The annual reports of the US Department of State and Commission for International Religious Freedom have not truly reflected on freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam, as well as achievements in the protection of religious freedom in the country. These reports should be based on accurate information with comprehensive and objective assessments of freedom of religion or belief in the country. Since Vietnam and the USA holding annual dialogue on human rights, this channel could be a great opportunity for exchanges contributing to promote mutual understanding and narrow differences in the issue of religious freedom in particular./.

PTT

Freedom of belief and religion in Vietnam should be objectively assessedThough acknowledging some progress in the protection of the right to freedom of religion in Vietnam, both reports contained subjective assessment of religious freedom in the country.   The Vietnamese State’s consistent policy is respecting and protecting
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