Human rights watchdog, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling for fair treatment of a church congregation by authorities after reports of criticism and allegations by both state media and social media users emerged against an independent church in Ho Chi Minh City.
Revival Ekklesia Mission (REM) is facing criminal charges after 211 coronavirus cases were confirmed as linked to the church while Vietnam faces a surge in cases.
The sudden rise in infection rates in Vietnam has led authorities to start Covid-testing the 9 million inhabitants of Ho Chi Minh to stop the spread of the virus.
However, CSW is concerned that limitation of freedom of religion or belief on public health grounds is being applied to the church in a discriminatory manner.
According to Morning Star News, although REM is registered with the local authorities to carry out religious activities, is not “legally recognised” as a religious organisation. The report adds that on 30th May, authorities temporarily suspended REM’s registration.
The Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, who also serves as the chairman of the Government Committee of Religious Affairs, stated that REM was not a church and its leaders could not call themselves “reverend” or “pastor”.
Under Vietnamese law, official registration is required for a wide range of religious activities and official recognition can take several years.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “We are concerned by reports of criticisms and allegations against the church and its leader both by state media and social media users, and particularly by reports of the ‘singling out’ of churches by authorities, apparently in connection with this outbreak.
“We call on the authorities to ensure that any limitations on public health grounds are applied in a non-discriminatory manner, and that they are not instrumentalised to undermine the future enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms. We further call on the authorities to ensure that any criminal investigations are carried out in line with international standards which protect the rights of the persons involved, in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a party.”
The pastors of the church, currently hospitalised due to covid-related health complications, have made a public apology and have urged church members to cooperate with authorities.