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Vietnam Adopts China-Style Restrictions on Religious Freedom

(UPDATED) Replacement of 2005 decree will likely solidify nation's standing as a U.S. 'country of particular concern.'
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Update (Feb. 7): Morning Star News reports that Vietnam's new religion law, which requires a 23-year minimum for new churches to receive legal recognition, could end its house church movement. An attempt by the nation's oldest evangelical denominations to reunite this year after being split by its 1950s civil war has also been blocked.

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Vietnam has long been known as one of the U.S. State Department's "countries of particular concern" for its repression of religious freedom. And beginning January 1, a new decree could strengthen its notoriety.

Decree 92 will severely restrict freedom of worship in Vietnam, legislating "procedures by which religious organizations can register their activities, places of worship, and clerics to operate openly or to apply for official recognition." Recognized religious organizations will represent 11 different religions including Buddhist, Catholic, and Protestant traditions.

The decree also will restrict Christian house churches that operate outside the law.

Church leaders from various religions are speaking out against the new decree, which replaces a previous decree from 2005. The head of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (an unrecognized organization) says the new law allows the government far more power to restrict religious worship than it had before.

Similarly, Hanoi Catholics told Asia News that Vietnam's decision to model its religious policies after those in China is "draconian" and "backward."

CT has regularly reported on Vietnam, including an agreement between Hanoi officials and the U.S. to lift restrictions on Christians in 2005, as well as on a government-sanctioned Easter gathering for house churches in 2009. But activists have long called for Vietnam to end its "appalling" persecution, including abuse of tribal Christians in 2002.

December
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