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Leaked Vietnamese government manual outlines plan to ‘resolutely subdue’ Protestant religion

11/13/06 Vietnam (CSW) CSW has acquired details of an internal Vietnamese government training manual, which outlines a plan ‘to resolutely subdue the abnormally rapid and spontaneous development of the Protestant religion’ among ethnic minorities in the north-west highlands. The manual, entitled ‘Training Document: Concerning the Task of the Protestant Religion in the Northern Mountainous Region’, appears to have been issued by a government department, the Central Bureau of Religious Affairs.

This document emerges at a time when Vietnam is widely expected to be taken off the US blacklist of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ for religious freedom violations. Vietnam is also preparing to host the 2006 Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit, which US President George W. Bush will be attending, and is expecting the establishment of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the US by a forthcoming vote in Congress, in a move which will expedite her long-coveted entry into the World Trade Organisation.

The document recognises the ‘spiritual need for a portion of our people’, but betrays a deep antagonism in the official attitude towards Protestantism. It creates a vast loophole whereby local authorities are empowered to arbitrate on the legitimacy of congregations, and to force newer Protestant Christians to renounce their faith.

As the APEC summit meets in Hanoi , therefore, local authorities in the north-west highland region remain empowered to decide upon the legitimacy of individual Protestant congregations. When local authorities find locations where people have recently begun to follow to the Protestant religion, they are instructed to ‘hold your ground and mobilise and persuade the people to return to their traditional beliefs’.

Previous experiences of ethnic minority Protestants have included attempts to force renunciations of faith by torture, beatings and threats. Many Protestants have been imprisoned for their faith in recent years, and a number of deaths at the hands of local authorities have been reported, most recently that of Sung Chong Chu in December 2005. Even churches which have been registered in the northern region have experienced intensive monitoring and restrictions by the local authorities.

CSW’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said, “The emergence of this document is highly incriminating at a time when Vietnam is trying to show a positive face to the world. While it undoubtedly reflects an increased engagement with the issue of religious freedom, the fact that it allows local authorities to arbitrarily decide on the legitimacy of individual congregations is shocking and flagrantly inconsistent with international standards on religious freedom. If Vietnam wants to participate fully on the world stage, she must respect international law by protecting the full religious freedom of her citizens. In particular, the policy of allowing attempts to force Protestants to renounce their faith must be unequivocally denounced and prohibited.

“On the eve of the APEC summit in Hanoi , CSW is calling upon the international community to urgently raise these concerns and to call upon the Vietnamese government to develop a proper and viable legislative framework for religious freedom, which is fully in accord with her obligations under international law. The loopholes and inconsistencies in the current legislative framework continue to allow a considerable level of subjectivity in the attitude to Protestantism and the treatment of its adherents, which is widely exploited by antagonistic local officials”.