More than 50 religious communities across Vietnam held an “International Day of Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief” on Monday.
Monday’s event was expected to be the largest of its kind in the country.
Nguyen Dinh Thang, General Director of Boat People SOS (BPSOS), which monitors religious freedom in Vietnam, said more groups were expected to take part.
“There are still groups and communities that can organize but have not informed us yet, or say they will notify us,” he said.
“There are 23 communities in the Central Highlands, 20 Cao Dai communities and other forms of the Cao Dai religion who have informed us.”
“Around 12 Catholic churches or parishes including Thai Ha Church in Hanoi, will hold communion prayers. One Buddhist temple has reported [that it is taking part] and we are also contacting two more temples to see if they will participate.”
Anticipating that the government may interfere with Monday’s activities Thang said his organization would make global groups aware of any harassment.
“We will keep an eye on all the communities that have registered with us so that, in the event of any act of aggression, any development that is dangerous, oppressive or threatening to people in response to the commemoration of the event, we will immediately alert the international community.”
The memorial also comes in the context of crackdowns on the Duong Van Minh sect, which was Founded in 1989, to promote the ending of costly and unhygienic funeral customs practiced by members of the ethnic Hmong group.
Dozens of religious groups in Cao Bang province have been raided. The authorities destroyed their places of worship and forced believers to sign papers renouncing their faith.
Faced with the risk of government harassment, some communities decided to celebrate Aug. 22 in silence. They include Cao Dai followers in Vinh Long, who said they fear punishment if they speak out against repression.
The Cao Dai religion is divided into a group formed in 1926, which strives to be independent, and Cao Dai 1997.
The government created the 1997 “Cao Dai Tay Ninh Sect,” appointing leaders loyal to the Vietnamese Communist Party and transferring religious properties and assets of the religion, including its Holy See in Tay Ninh Province, to the new sect.
It has since assumed the identity of the Cao Dai Religion, occupied its Holy See, and seized most of its temples. Sect members are accused of committing severe violations of human rights, including torture, with the aim of converting Cao Dai 1926 followers.
Complaints and requests for intervention filed by Cao Dai 1926 adherents have ignored by the government.
One Cao Dai 1926 group in Vinh Long held its memorial event in silence last Friday. Its Chief Minister Nguyen Xuan Mai told RFA why she decided to take part.
“I want to send a message to those who are still discriminating or disagreeing on religious issues in Vietnam, how we should have freedom of belief and not be harassed and persecuted,” she said.
In June, Mai went to the U.S. to attend the International Conference on Religious Freedom. She was detained and questioned for hours on her return to Ho Chi Minh City.
Since 2019, the United Nations General Assembly has designated August 22 as a day of commemoration for victims of genocide, oppression, and persecution solely for religious belief. It also aims to raise global awareness of religious freedom.
Vietnam is frequently listed as a country where people’s religious freedom is still infringed.
In April the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a report which accused the Vietnamese government of religious persecution, especially of independent religious groups and ethnic minorities.
In the past 10 months Vietnam has set up riot squads across the country, particularly in areas where the government has cracked down on religious dissent. Activists say the squads could be used to stop demonstrations by ethnic and religious minorities such as the Protestant Ede and Duong Van Minh sect in provinces like Cao Bang and Gia Lai.
Authorities have also cracked down on the Peng Lei Buddhist House. Last month the Vietnam Interfaith Council criticized the combined sentences of more than 23 years for six members of the religion, who were charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
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