May 5, 2022
President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Biden,
We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are writing to request that you, on the occasion of the upcoming US– ASEAN Summit, directly raise concerns with the Prime Minister of Vietnam about his government’s antagonistic policies toward religions that do not submit to government control. Of particular concern is the intensifying state-directed and state-supported propaganda that promotes hate speech and incites violence against religious and lay leaders with real and deeply disturbing consequences.
Organized mobs known as “Red Flag Associations” have taken to the social media to slander Catholic priests, calling them “black crows,” “traitors,” “canine priests”, “Catholic Moose”, “candle traders”, and “devilish extremists,” among other epithets. Red Flag members have characterized respected monks of the Unified Buddhist Church’s Sangha as “bad forces” who “distorted the nature of religious freedom in Vietnam.” Red Flag members in Dak Lak Province called on the government to “eliminate the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ from the life of villagers.”
Pursuant to its review of Vietnam’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee explicitly singled out the Red Flag Associations as a source of incitement to hatred and violence:
“[The Committee] is disturbed by reports that non-State actors, such as the “red flag associations” attack Catholic communities, and are involved in propaganda activities that promote and incite religious discrimination, violence and hate speech (arts. 2, 18–20 and 26).
So far, Red Flag members have enjoyed complete impunity. Their messages promoting hatred and violence have rapidly multiplied throughout Vietnam’s society. Human rights organizations have documented some one hundred messages on Facebook and Google targeting religious and lay leaders of Montagnard Christian house churches over the past twelve months alone.
Certain government units also incited hatred against ethno-religious minorities. The Department of Public Security of Gia Lai Province characterizes Montagnards who have converted to Catholicism due to their belief in the apparition of the Virgin Mary near Ha Mon Village in the Central Highlands as the “Ha Mon cult” and in December 2020 declared its “having completed extermination of the Ha Mon heresy.” On February 9, 2021, the government of Vinh Quang Hamlet, Bao Lam District, Cao Bang Province broadcast on the PA system of the Na Tong Market characterizing followers of Duong Van Minh Religion, a variant sect of the Christian belief, as “swindlers” who “spread arguments that are delusional, nonsensical causing confusion among the public…”
Probably not by coincidence, there has been increasing physical violence directed specifically at religious and lay leaders who were targets of hate speech. In January of this year, mobs twice attacked followers of the Cao Dai religion during prayer services in their private homes in Tay Ninh Province. On August 11 and 12, 2020, a mob intruded in Thien An Abbey in Hue City and attacked priests and monks during their prayer service. On January 29, Catholic priest Tran Ngoc Thanh died of injuries after being hacked with a machete while hearing confession at his church in Kontum Province. Last year another Catholic priest in the same province was stabbed in his stomach by a stranger and had to be hospitalized. On February 20, two government officials barged into a Catholic Church in Hoa Binh Province and threateningly disrupted the Mass that was being officiated by the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Ha Noi. A few days before that incident, a Hmong couple and their parents in Lai Chau Province were attacked by a mob that insulted them for being Christians.
These are but a few examples of religious and lay leaders of various religions facing violence and threats to their personal safety due to the government’s complicity in hate messages and non-compliance with Article 20, paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”
In light of this worrying trend, we ask that you communicate directly to Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh of Vietnam and urge his government to comply fully with both Article 18 of the ICCPR, which guarantees the right to religious freedom or belief, as well as with the requirement of Article 20 that incitement to violence be prohibited by law. Additionally, we ask that you instruct the Department of State to:
(1) Maintain a database of reported incidents of hate speech and ask the Vietnamese government for both an explanation and a resolution of each incident;
(2) Identify and assess the impacts of hate speech on religious communities that are targeted by the government of Vietnam;
(3) Press social media providers such as Facebook and Google to take down the hate
messages compiled in the database;
(4) Work with the UN Human Rights Committee to monitor Vietnam’s compliance with Article 18 and Article 20 of the ICCPR;
(5) Include hate speech as part of the Department’s annual reports on human rights and international religious freedom as well as its Country of Particular Concern designation decision.
Thank you for your consideration of these requests and for your Administration’s attention to these important matters.
Nguyen Dinh Thang, PhD
CEO & President
Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
The Honorable Antony Blinken, Secretary of State
The Honorable Rashad Hussain, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom
The Honorable Lisa Peterson, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
The Honorable Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
The Honorable Marc Knapper, US Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam