Human rights groups urge Vietnamese govertnment to revise draft religion law

Catholic Church in the city of Hue, Vietnam | Wikimedia Commons/Tonbi ko

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and 50 civil society organizations and religious groups in Vietnam urged the government to to comply with international human rights laws by revising the draft of the Law on Belief and Religion.

The various groups signed a joint statement addressed to Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, President of the National Assembly of Vietnam. In the letter, the concerned groups acknowledged that there have been some improvements in the nine-chapter draft law but some restrictions have been found to be in conflict with religious freedom.

The letter pointed out that religious organizations that did not register with the Vietnamese government have no legal safeguards when it came to conducting religious activities. It made the suggestion that registration should not be a prerequisite for the free exercise of religion.

The signatories asked the Vietnamese government to prohibit officials from arbitrarily interfering in matters involving religious organizations.

According to the statement, the draft law contained "ambiguous and potentially discriminatory language" that could be used against ethnic minorities, independent groups and those who practice a religion that can be considered "foreign."

The signatories also requested the government to create legal channels for people to file their complaints in case religious freedom is violated.

The letter noted that some independent religious organizations were not consulted when the draft law was being prepared.

CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas noted that while there has been some improvements in the draft, it still did not meet the standards set by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"This letter draws on the criticisms and concerns voiced by Vietnamese religious communities and shared by international civil society organizations," said Thomas. "CSW continues to receive reports of the harassment and arbitrary detention of unregistered Protestants and other religious minorities," Thomas continued.

"We urge the Vietnamese government to consult with religious communities and to revise the law to ensure that registration is not a prerequisite for the exercise of freedom of religion or belief," he added.

According to the Open Doors World Watch List, Vietnam ranks as the 20th most difficult country to live in as a Christian. The communist government is suspicious of Protestantism and Catholicism because both sects are perceived to be connected to foreign powers.