Vietnam’s Two Faces: Religion-Law Reforms Awaited Amidst Violence against Christians

ICC Note: The topic of religious freedom in Vietnam is one that is affected by many varying intricacies. Though, according to reports, Vietnam is on the verge of reform which would allow for greater religious freedom, persecution against Christians continues to take place in the form of “surveillance, intimidation, [and] harassment.” The potential for reform of Vietnam’s religious laws hopes to allow for a more open approach to religious issues as well as a reduction of restrictions nationwide.

04/30/2015 Vietnam (World Watch Monitor) – As Vietnam celebrates 40 years since the end of what is commonly known elsewhere as the ‘Vietnam War’, its government faces accusations of failing to ensure the rights of its citizens to religious freedom.

“In Vietnam, we still have a government that shows two faces – the friendly and welcoming face on one side and the oppressive face on the other.”

These words, attributed by Open Doors to a Vietnamese Christian whose name was withheld, provide an insight into a country which, on the one hand, is reportedly close to making positive reforms to its laws on religious practice, but on the other is accused by the UN of “gross violation” of religious freedom “in the face of constant surveillance, intimidation, harassment and persecution”.

Where Vietnam is concerned, religious freedom is rarely black and white.

Consider the “cautious optimism” of Nigel Cory, a researcher at the The Center for Strategic & International Studies, who suggests “the space for religious freedom [in Vietnam] seems to be growing”.

Cory says the appointment by Pope Francis of a Vietnamese archbishop, Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon, as a new cardinal was a “boon to the Catholic community in Vietnam”. He also references the formal “restarting” of 115 new Catholic and Protestant churches in 2013, up from 20 in 2012 and five in 2011, and Vietnam’s approval in 2014 of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, seems to agree in part, when, in his January report, he acknowledges “positive development”. However, his other comments are less complimentary.


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