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Vietnam: The Cao Dai religion, including the treatment of its members (1998)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 October 1998
Citation / Document Symbol VNM30172.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Vietnam: The Cao Dai religion, including the treatment of its members (1998), 1 October 1998, VNM30172.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aabd40.html [accessed 22 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

 

According to the May 1998 issue of Destination Vietnam, Cao Dai is an indigenous religion, which encompasses elements of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Taoism. The latter article places the number of its adherents in Vietnam at two million, while the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance Website places the number at between seven and eight million in the country, and at 30,000 members elsewhere. Both sources state that their main cathedral, the Holy See, is located in the province of Tay Ninh, about 58 or 60 miles northwest of Saigon. Destination Vietnam states that the Holy See has been described "as a rococo extravaganza and the Disneyland of religious centers." The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance Website further states that the Cao Dai was officially sanctioned by the Vietnamese government in mid-1997 (see also Country Reports 1997, 1998, 932).

However, AFP states that the Vietnamese government has tight controls on all Catholic, Cao Dai and Protestant churches (14 Oct. 1997), and Country Reports 1997 adds that undercover government officials have attended and monitored Cao Dai services (1998, 932). In a Los Angeles Times report, Lan Nguyen, the head of a refugee advocacy group in California, stated that 160 clergy from Catholic, Buddhist, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao religions have been incarcerated as religious prisoners in Vietnam (11 May 1998).

The information that follows was provided in one of two documents sent to the Research Directorate on 1 October 1998 by a minister at the Cao Dai Temple of New South Wales, Australia.

In a document issued by the Communist Party of Vietnam, Province Party Committee of Tay Ninh, on 29 May 1996, entitled Decision: Regarding the establishment of the Steering Committee to implement Communiqué 34 of the Secretariat's policy toward the Cao Dai religion, the party stated that "...throughout 29 provinces and cities in the country; it (Cao Dai( has also been exploited by infiltrated enemies to stir up political reactionary operations against our revolution" (1). The document also states that a Cao Dai practice called Spiritism was abolished, as well as the the religion's organizational structure as a "nation within a nation," and that with the direct input from the Communist Party, Cao Dai followers were "trained and re-educated" (ibid.). In the document, the Party made the following comments: "Cao Dai cannot endure. The need is to narrow it within the locality of Tay Ninh and to encircle it gradually into a small area, and then it will disappear" (2).

The second document sent by the New South Wales-based minister was issued on 21 April 1997 by the Rescue Committee for the True Structure of Dai-Dao Tam Ky Pho-Do Tay Ninh Holy See in Wiley Park, New South Wales, and is entitled "Dai-Dao Tam Ky Pho-Do." Please note that the document claims that the Communist Party and Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam "aims at destroying the True Doctrine, Law and Religious Constitution of the Dai-Dao Tam-Ky Pho-Do, Tay-Ninh Holy-See" (1).

The document identifies several individuals who have been planted by the government in the organizational structure of Cai Dao at the Holy See, namely Ho Ngoc Tho and Nguyen Thanh Tam, President and Standing Vice President of the government's General Management Council (3). During a 5 April 1997 General Assembly at the Tay Ninh Holy See, 737 representatives attended, but the Rescue Committee states that all these representatives were handpicked by the government and that true Cao Dai followers were not present (4). According to the committee, the charter and constitution that were drawn up that day breached the Cao Dai's Religious Law and Constitution of Dai-Dao Tam Ky Pho-Do (ibid.).

Please consult both documents for additional information on the relationship between Cao Dai believers and the Vietnamese government.

In a 1 October 1998 letter sent by e-mail to the Research Directorate, the President of the Cao Dai Overseas Missionary (sic.( in Washington stated that the Cao Dai is "currently being persecuted by the Vietnamese Communist government" and that some of its members have been subjected to police beatings, incarceration, reporting daily to police and forced to write false confessions. The authorities have also stripped some members of their religious titles and others have been excommunicated. Another letter sent by the same source on 2 October 1998 stated that the Vietnamese government recently released 5000 prisoners, including political and religious prisoners. The President was in the process of verifying whether any Cao Dai dignitaries and believers were still imprisoned in Vietnam.

For additional information on the Cao Dai religion, including its practice of Spiritism, please consult the attached article by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Agence France Presse (AFP). 14 October 1997. "Rights Group Seeks Amnesty for Vietnamese Dissidents." (NEXIS)

Cao Dai Overseas Missionary, Washington. 1 and 2 October 1998. Letters sent by e-mail by the President.

Communist Party of Vietnam, Tay Ninh. 29 May 1996. Decision: Regarding the establishment of the Steering Committee to implement Communiqué 34 of the Secretariat's policy toward the Cao Dai religion.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997. 1998. United States Department of State. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.

Destination Vietnam (San Francisco(. 1998. Sara Fisher. "Caodaism." [Internet] [Accessed 30 Sept. 1998].

Los Angeles Times. 11 May 1998. Tini Tran. "Delegates to Urge Rights in Vietnam; Policy: Eleven Southland Residents Join a Group Visiting D.C. to Lobby Leaders to Require Reforms in Exchange for Trade Privileges." (NEXIS)

Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 1998. "Caodaism." [Internet] [Accessed 30 Sept. 1998].

Rescue Committee for the True Structure of Dai-Dao Tam Ky Pho-Do Tay Ninh Holy See, Wiley Park, New South Wales, Australia. 21 April 1997. "Dai-Dao Tam Ky Pho-Do."

Attachments

Communist Party of Vietnam, Tay Ninh. 29 May 1996. Decision: Regarding the establishment of the Steering Committee to implement Communiqué 34 of the Secretariat's policy toward the Cao Dai religion, pp.1-8.

     Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 1998. "Caodaism." [Internet] (Accessed 30 Sept. 1998).

Rescue Committee for the True Structure of Dai-Dao Tam Ky Pho-Do Tay Ninh Holy See, Wiley Park, New South Wales, Australia. 21 April 1997. "Dai-Dao Tam Ky Pho-Do," pp. 1-5.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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