Independent religious leaders in Vietnam have stepped up their attack on proposed new government regulations that they say will consolidate state control over religion.
A draft law on belief and religion, currently before the National Assembly, would make it even easier for the government to harass, intimidate and persecute religious believers, said the Interfaith Council of Vietnam.
The body represents independent leaders from the Catholic, Protestant, Cai Dai and Hoa Hao Buddhist faiths.
The draft bill, which has been amended on a number of occasions, is expected to be finally voted on in the current session of the assembly.
It would require all religious groups to seek approval and registration from government officials, a way of delegitimising independent groups according to critics.
Members of the assembly have spoken in favour of the new code, saying that it provides necessary regulation for religious freedom.
It will “ensure religious freedom of detainees, prisoners and those kept in camps and rehabilitation centres,” said Nguyen Huu Cau, an assemblyman from Nghe An province.
Independent groups fear that the National Assembly, which is overwhelmingly dominated by Communist party members, will pass the bill on the spurious slogan that it guarantees and regulates “religious freedom”.
“As spiritual leaders struggling for religions’ independence and the people’s human and civil rights, we completely reject the draft law on belief and religion that the Communist government is using the National Assembly to approve and impose,” said the Interfaith Council of Vietnam.
It said that members of religious groups were no different from any other citizens and should have the same rights and duties as guaranteed by the constitution.
“A specific law on religion and their followers is not necessary, shows clear discrimination against them, and considers religion to be an enemy that needs to be controlled,” maintained the Interfaith Council in a statement.
Many of the council’s representatives have themselves suffered persecution during their struggle for religious freedom.
Father Nguyen Van Ly, a leading advocate for democracy and religious freedom, was only released in May after serving eight years in prison.
The representatives said that religious groups and their followers had no obligation to obey the new law should it be approved in its current form.
“Accepting the bill means continuing…to support the dictatorial regime,” concluded the statement.