Religious freedom in Vietnam still at risk despite new law

Hoi An Catholic Church | Wikimedia Commons/ansieee

Vietnam's 14th National Assembly passed the Law on Belief and Religion on Nov. 18. But there are concerns that the law, which is the first of its kind in the country, still does not meet the international standards on religious freedom.

According to persecution watchdog group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the law has been revised several times and there have been some improvements in the revised versions. However, the registration requirements and state interference in the affairs of religious organizations still pose a risk to religious freedom.

CSW, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and 50 other civil society organizations released a joint statement calling on the Vietnamese government to ensure that registration is not a requirement for the free exercise of religion.

The various groups also expressed their concern about ambiguities in the law which might allow for discrimination and abuse.

"When the possibility of a law on religion was first mentioned, some were hopeful that it would address the obstacles to freedom of religion or belief in the existing regulations. Unfortunately, throughout the drafting process the law continued to focus on the control and management of religious activities, rather than the protection of religious freedom," said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.

"Basic guarantees of the right to freedom of religion or belief must not be undermined by onerous registration requirements, and groups which cannot or choose not to register must not be excluded from the enjoyment of this right," he continued.

Religious freedom has improved in Vietnam in the past four decades but the communist government still maintains some form of control. Religious organizations are required to register with the government in order to own or rent property.

Religious organizations must report their leadership, membership, beliefs and activities as part of the registration process. Registered organizations may still need the permission of a local government official for some religious activities, according to America magazine.

Some religious groups choose to remain unregistered to maintain independence from the state. However, these unregistered groups run the risk of being harassed by the police.