By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– Christian activists expressed concern Friday, December 6, that a revised constitution for Vietnam can be used to repress religious leaders and faith groups.
The constitution, which passed November 28 by an almost unanimous vote through parliament, has “disappointed religious leaders, intellectuals, activists and former officials hoping for political reform by preserving the dominance of the Communist Party,” said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a major advocacy group.
Vietnam’s amended constitution will come into effect on January 1 next year.
CSW acknowledged that both the 1992 constitution and the revised version contain clauses protecting the right to observe or not to follow a religion.
However, the law “also include caveats prohibiting the misuse of religions or beliefs to violate the law,” CSW added.
“Officials opposed to the growth of religion can use [them] to repress religious leaders and groups,” said the group, which closely followed the debate.
Earlier this year, Vietnam’s government invited the public to comment on the country’s proposed constitution and possible reforms.
In response, some 72 prominent intellectuals and former government officials issued an alternative constitution online, calling for democratic elections, freedom of the press, and private landownership.
In March, Vietnamese Catholic bishops also offered their own observations and propositions on the draft amendment promulgated by the government.
Their proposals included constitutional guarantees on human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.
They also demanded respect for the right to participate in the governmental system at all levels, greater emphasis on the role of the National Assembly, and the independence of the legislative, executive and judicial authorities.
Yet, on November 28, the National Assembly, Vietnam’s parliament, rejected those suggestions.
It adopted an amended constitution “which retained the dominance of the Communist Party in both the political and economical spheres,” CSW complained in a statement to BosNewsLife.
In published remarks, National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung praised the passing of the new constitution however as a “historic moment.”
The official told state-run media that new constitution “clearly and fully reflects the democratic and progressive nature of the Vietnamese State in the transitional period”.
Catholic media have reportedly described the result as “frustrating”, a view shared by CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
““We share the frustration and disappointment expressed by religious leaders and others calling for greater freedoms in Vietnam,” Thomas told BosNewsLife.
“As Vietnam takes up a new position on the UN Human Rights Council, the government must ensure its laws and constitutional provisions are in line with international human rights standards, including standards on freedom of religion or belief.”
He said his group has urged authorities of the Communist-run Asian nation “to take every opportunity to take on board the views and demands of civil society, including religious leaders, intellectuals, political commentators and legal experts.”