FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Vietnam’s Draft Law Threatens Religious Freedom

Rights organizations call for comprehensive revision of Vietnamese government’s draft law on religion

Bangkok, November 3, 2015

Citing a series of inconsistencies with international law protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief,  27  organizations, including international NGOs and regional civil society organizations today issued a joint statement criticizing Vietnam’s draft law on religion and belief.

“Rather than promoting freedom of religion, the draft law would make an already repressive situation much worse”, says Dr. Thang Nguyen, President and CEO of Boat People SOS (BPSOS).

The draft law comes on the heels of serious concerns raised by independent authorities on freedom of religion. In its 2015 report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) again recommended that Vietnam be designated as a Country of Particular Concern given its government’s egregious violations of freedom of religion. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, made similar conclusions after his official visit to Vietnam in 2014, which was cut short due to government interference with the rapporteur’s efforts to meet with members of independent religious groups. At the Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Southeast Asia held in Bangkok, Thailand in early October, representatives of several religious communities exposed the persecution they were facing in Vietnam.

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Independent Cao Dai practitioners join the conference on freedom of religion

The draft law, set for discussion in Vietnam’s National Assembly on 6 November 2015, would strengthen an already robust system of monitoring and control maintained by the government under the country’s Ordinance on Belief and Religion and the implementing Decree 92, and would further entrench its reach into and control over religious organizations and activities.

Article 18(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a state party, requires the authorities to ensure that the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief is subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary and proportionate to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Criticisms of the draft law center around excessive state control over religious communities. Onerous registration requirements, coupled with state monitoring and close supervision of religious communities, unreasonably restrict free religious practice. Broad and ambiguous language could lead to discriminatory application of the laws, which is already well-documented in Vietnam, against independent religious communities including Cao Daiists, Hoa Hao Buddhists, members of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Protestant house churches, Catholic parishes, and particularly against ethnic minority religious groups such as Montagnard Protestants, Hmong Protestants and Khmer Krom Buddhists.

“The language of the draft law shows that the government still fundamentally fails to understand what freedom of religion means as a right and what Vietnam’s obligations are under international law,” said Dr. Thang. “The draft law should be amended in accordance with international standards to ensure that people in Vietnam can exercise their faiths freely.

 

To read the joint statement in its entirely, please visit: issuu.com/eastasiahrplatform/docs/joint_statement_on_vietnam_draft_la  or click here to download

A collection of English language resources on the draft law can be found at: www.dvov.org/2015/10/26/vietnamdraftlor/

Democratic Voice of Vietnam is an independent source of human rights news in Vietnam and a hub for independent Vietnamese civil society. www.dvov.org

The joint statement is open for additional organizations to sign on. To sign on, please visit issuu.com/eastasiahrplatform/docs/joint_statement_on_vietnam_draft_la

For general inquiries, please contact Mr. Ian Stuart: ian.stuart@bpsos.org

For media inquiries, please contact Dr. Thang Nguyen: thang.nguyen@bpsos.org