Vietnam - Analysis: 2008 Internal ‘Training Manual for the Task Concerning the Protestant Religion’  01/06/2009

Executive summary

Since 2006 the Vietnamese Government's Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) has produced three substantive editions of an internal training manual outlining guidelines for dealing with religious affairs in the northern highland provinces. The first document (2006) was the subject of widespread criticism due to its attempt to subdue the rapid expansion of the Protestant religion in the region. In response to this criticism, the revised 2007 version softened the inflammatory language, but retained the core objection of “solving the Protestant problem” by subduing its development. Following a recent evaluation of the results of religious policy to date, the CRA produced a new manual in 2008 entitled “Training Manual for the Task Concerning the Protestant Religion”, which seems to be intended to supersede the previous manuals (2006 and 2007) and to apply to the whole of Vietnam.

While the 2008 manual is less critical of Protestantism in its rhetoric and addresses some of  the criticisms of the earlier editions, strong concerns remain. Of primary concern is the retention of an underlying suspicion of the Protestant religion and its perceived potential to be abused by ‘hostile forces' to cause political instability. Also, although the manual expressly states that forced renunciations of faith are not permitted, it still encourages local officials to ”create the conditions” for new converts to Protestantism to return to their traditional beliefs if they have a ‘need' to do so, allowing for arbitrary implementation. Another major shortcoming concerns deficiency in the process of registration of congregations – local authorities are encouraged to begin with ‘pilot projects' before undertaking widespread registrations, and additional stringent requirements are imposed on ethnic minorities in the northern highlands seeking to register Protestant meeting places. Finally, the 2008 manual adds an entirely new section to make clear the government's intent in ongoing regulation and tight control of all levels of religious activities of registered groups, individual congregations and meeting places.

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