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Proposed Vietnam religion law draws ire

Civil society groups urge government to redraft controversial legislation

Proposed Vietnam religion law draws ire

Catholics beat drums during a welcoming ceremony at a cathedral in Hanoi in January. (Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP) reporter, Beijing

November 4, 2015

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A group of 27 civil society organizations have called on Vietnam to edit a controversial draft law on religion, saying it is wide open to abuse.

Lawmakers in Vietnam are expected to pass a new law on religion that religious leaders and rights monitors have long warned will likely worsen oppression.

In a statement issued Nov. 3, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and dozens of other international organizations, including the International Commission of Jurists and Freedom House, urged the government to heavily revise its law.

"While the draft purports to acknowledge 'the right to freedom of religion and belief' and proclaims that the 'government respects and protects the freedom of religion and belief of everyone,' the provisions of the draft law, if passed, would act as a powerful instrument of control, placing sweeping, overly broad limitations on the practice of religion or belief within Vietnam, perpetuating the already repressive situation," reads the statement.

In an interview with in October, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the Vatican's nonresident envoy to Vietnam, said there had been "consultation" with the bishops over the law. 

"Some bishops commented that draft No. 5 is more positive than draft No. 4 as it reduces the mechanism that the church should seek the required permission from the government for many of her religious and social activities. However, draft No. 5 is not yet in full compliance with the U.N. Declaration for Human Rights [Article 18]," he wrote in an email.

Among the concerns listed in the joint statement are onerous registration requirements, excessive state control, and ambiguous wording that "could be used to perpetuate discrimination."

In a 10-point recommendation, the groups urged a redraft that is in line with international law and recommendations from the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion.

Whether the Vietnam government would consider such recommendations remains to be seen. While Buddhism, Catholicism and Protestantism have all enjoyed measured growth in recent years, the government continues to monitor and control religious activity — particularly that of ethnic minorities. Similar to China, those who are from splinter sects or unrecognized religion face particular repression.

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