Vietnam dismisses US move to put country on religious freedom ‘watch list’

vietnam dismisses us move to put country on religious freedom watch list

Vietnam on Thursday dismissed the U.S. State Department’s decision to put the country on a watch list of countries to be monitored for severe violations of freedom of religion – even as it continued to demolish Buddhist pagodas and crack down on Christian churches.

Freedom of religion is technically enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution, but it also allows authorities to override rights, including religious freedom, for purposes of national security, social order, social morality and community well-being.

And recently, authorities have moved aggressively to try to crush various religious groups. 

Just this week, authorities in Kon Tum province in the Central Highlands destroyed a Buddhist pagoda belonging to the independent Unified Church of Vietnam. And last week, authorities in Danang city raided a house where 16 members of the outlawed Duc Chua Troi (God the Father) Church were holding a service, and made them pledge they would no longer gather for worship.

But on Thursday, deputy spokesperson Pham Thu Hang of the foreign ministry told a regular press briefing that the U.S. designation was based on nonobjective, inaccurate reports.

“Vietnam is ready to talk with the U.S. side about issues of mutual concern in the spirit of straightforwardness, openness, mutual respect, and contributions to the promotion of bilateral comprehensive partner relations,” Hang said. 

The United States placed Vietnam along with Algeria, the Central African Republic and Comoros on its Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.

The designation means the U.S. does not consider the four nations’ violations against religious freedom widespread or severe enough to label them Countries of Particular Concern, but the State Department will monitor them closely for future inclusion.

“Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement issued Dec. 2. “In some instances, they stifle individuals’ freedom of religion or belief to exploit opportunities for political gain.”

“These actions sow division, undermine economic security, and threaten political stability and peace,” he said. “The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses.”

Since April 2018, Vietnam’s government has directed authorities to monitor the activities of the Duc Chua Troi Church and its affiliated Duc Chua Troi Mẹ (God the Mother) Church, which have roots in South Korea.

The church evolved from South Korea’s World Mission Society Church of God, a splinter group of Church of God Jesus Witnesses established by late Christian minister Ahn Sahng-hong in Busan in 1964. The World Mission Society Church of God says it is present in 175 countries and has more than 2 million followers. 

Vietnam’s Law on Belief and Religion requires religious groups to formally register their organizations and places of worship, though only organizations that have operated for at least five years can apply for registration. Once registered, the organizations are granted status as legal entities. But many groups refused to register out of fear of persecution or concern for their independence.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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