Though casting a fairly positive light on Việt Nam’s achievements in ensuring religious freedom, the annual report on global religious freedom issued by the US Department of State on August 10 shows a narrow mindset, biased outlook and lack of goodwill.
|Almost all heads of Vietnamese religious organisations said religious freedom is being expanded across the country and the government has increasingly given recognition to religious organisations.(Photo: VNA/VNS)|
In the report, the US Department of State acknowledged the Vietnamese government’s efforts to ensure the rights to religious freedom, including the release of the draft Law on Religion and Belief for public feedback.
It also took note of opinions by almost all heads of Vietnamese religious organisations, which said religious freedom is being expanded across the country and the government has increasingly given recognition to religious organisations.
However, it continued to accuse Việt Nam of using violence on several religious groups, detaining and prosecuting them, restricting their travel, refusing to license their operations and hindering their activities in education and health care.
According to the report, Việt Nam’s regulations on religious management allow for limiting religious freedom and for the country’s authorities to obstruct the activities of unregistered religious groups.
The points mentioned in the report are not new, and are subjective and one-sided. In fact, the vivid religious life and law abiding spirit in ensuring human rights on view in Việt Nam are the strongest rebuttal to such allegations.
Firstly, belief and religious freedom in Việt Nam was confirmed in the draft Law on Belief and Religion, which is to replace the Ordinance on Belief and Religion, with additional content to modern Việt Nam.
The draft law recognises and specifies that the right to belief and religion is for all “people”, not only “citizens”, while clearly affirming the right to follow or not follow a religion.
No one is entitled to violate that right, stresses the document which prohibits forcing people to follow or denounce religions, or the taking advantage of belief and religious freedom to harm the State, citizens or religious organisations’ rights.
Compared to the older legal documents, the bill showed the State’s openeess in treating religions. It is vivid evidence that rejects arguments that would slander the State of Việt Nam by suggesting it is issuing the law to “tighten” controls on the right to belief and religious freedom.
Secondly, the freedom to practice religious rites and join religious activities for followers has been respected and observed. Annual religious festivals, including Christmas and the Buddha’s birthday, have been held with the participation of hundreds of thousands of followers.
Belief and religious activities are not only considered a spiritual need of followers, which is protected by the law, but are also seen as cultural activities belonging to all people. A number of major festivals have become shared events of the community, showing the harmony between life and religions in Việt Nam.
Over the past number of years, international co-operation by religious organisations has been stepped up, with visits conducted by both Vietnamese and foreign religious delegations.
Religious organisations in Việt Nam have also received support for numerous activities such as the Vesak celebrations and the Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
Việt Nam is a multi-racial and multi-religious nation. There are few other countries that have such harmony between major religions.
The Vietnamese State has recognised 39 organisations of 14 religions, with 24.3 million followers, or 27 percent of the population.
Religious organisations are an important channel that helps put Party guidelines and policies and State laws into reality.
Several prestigious religious dignitaries have been voted to the National Assembly, People’s Councils at all levels, the Việt Nam Fatherland Front and its member organisations.
The Vietnamese State only punishes organisations and individuals that violate the law, or who take advantage of the freedom of religion and belief to ruin the Party and State, or to undermine the nation’s construction and safeguarding, or national unity.
The US Department of State needs to be more objective on Việt Nam’s religious and belief practices, in order to make a correct assessment in conformity with the two countries’ growing relations.