By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)—Church leaders and rights activists fear that lawmakers in Vietnam will pass a new law on religion that would “likely worsen oppression” of minority Christians and other groups in the Communist-run Asian nation.
Some 27 advocacy and religious groups have urged Vietnam's government to make necessary changes to the legislation to prevent “further abuse of religious” minorities.
"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,” the statement said.
The groups warned that the law would place “sweeping, overly broad limitations on the practice of religion or belief within Vietnam, perpetuating the already repressive situation."
Among the concerns cited are registration requirements of churches, “excessive state control” and ambiguous wording that "could be used to perpetuate discrimination."
In a ten-point recommendation, the groups urged a redraft to follow “international law and recommendations from the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion” who has expressed concerns about Vietnam’s rights record.
Although a legislative framework for religious freedom was implemented in 2004-2005, Vietnam’s government maintains a specialized police force for dealing with religious groups, including Christians, rights activists say.
“Official government documents give local authorities in the northwest the mandate to compel Christians to recant their faith,” said the Voice of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) advocacy group.
The VOMC recalled that in November 2012, the government of Vietnam approved a new decree that rendered most house churches illegal as of January 1, 2013.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern” since 2001.
Vietnam “restricts religious freedom through legislation, registration requirements, and by harassing and intimidating unsanctioned religious groups,” the VOMC said in a recent country report.
“In some urban areas, religious activity is permitted within government-approved parameters. But in rural areas, local authorities view Christianity as a foreign threat and often use discrimination, intimidation, property destruction, detentions, beatings and forced renunciations of faith to halt church growth.”
Many of Vietnam's more than 50 ethnic minority groups face persecution because of both their ethnicity and Christian faith, according to VOMC activists.
Vietnamese authorities have routinely denied wrongdoing describing reports to the contrary as “Western propaganda.”
Several ethnic Christians have died while being tortured, several Christians have said. “Persecution is more severe in the north than in the south,” VOMC said, adding that its sources report “an increase in arrests and interrogations of Christian leaders in the past year.”
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