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Decree 95 intends to crush freedom of religion in Vietnam

The new religion decree, which was made public on the 29th of December last year, is going to take effect on the 30th of March.

The Law on Religion and Folk Belief came into effect on the 1st of January 2018. Two draft decrees followed right away. Decree 162 was introduced in 2019, despite strong opposition from domestic and international groups. The second draft, often referred to as “the punishment decree”, proposed harsh administrative fines and severe consequences for infringement of the Law. Following a huge backlash, authorities withdrew the draft decree. Vu Chien Thang, deputy minister of Home Affairs and head of the Government Committee of Religious Affairs, was determined that the religion legislation required strong enforcement measures. 

Decree 95 replaces Decree 162 and the punishment decree. It contains 33 articles, eight more than Decree 162; adding three more forms for anyone asking permission for and reporting religious activities. The most important extensions of jurisdiction are:

  1. Suspending and rehabilitating religious activities: proceedings on closing down and rehabilitating activities of religious organizations and religious education institutions
  2. Financial scrutiny: demands for local fundraising and financial handling and required steps for receiving foreign aid and forms for reporting on finances and goods in-kind.

House churches have been dependent on financial aid from international fraternal organisations from more than 30 years. The new decree introduces harsh government measures and careful examination of each application. The required paperwork is extensive and confusing.

An excerpt from the decree states: “The notification shall specify the name of the religious organization or religious affiliate that receives financial aids, the address and full name of the representative of the religious organization or religious affiliate; the name and headquarters of the foreign organization, or the full name and nationality of the foreign individual who provides financial aids; the form for reporting financial aids in cash and in-kind (value to be calculated in Vietnamese dong); expected date of use of financial aids; methods of managing and use of financial aids; and the receiving account information. The notification shall be accompanied with a written commitment by the foreign organization/individual on the origin of the financial aid on which taxes have been paid and in compliance with regulations of the host country before financial aids are provided.”

Quite a few Vietnamese church leaders think the new decree will have grave consequences for churches and freedom of religion. According to a veteran religious liberty researcher: “The law-making people needed work, so they were assigned to come up with more ideas of how to administer religious activities. Communist law-making, as in George Orwell’s  “Animal Farm,” exists to serve the powerful of the ruling party, both to address their fear of political instability and to feed corruption. Completely absent is any idea at all of working for the public good. It is all about how to control peoples’ minds and ways of living.”


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