Vietnam’s new Law on Belief and Religion is causing concern among Christians, particularly in rural areas, reports The Diplomat.

The legislation, passed in November last year, has been widely criticised by rights groups, who say the government is trying to exert greater control over religious practice in the country.

Human Rights Watch said that by ordering religious groups not to spoil “the national great unity” and “social morale”, the government had introduced vague terms that could be used against dissenting voices.

David Saperstein, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said: “If people go to the seminary, it requires government approval. If they’re going to be ordained, it requires government approval. If they’re going to be hired at a house of worship — a monk in a pagoda, a priest in a church or an imam at the mosque — it requires government approval.”

Meanwhile, last month Cambodia sent back 13 more Montagnard Christians to Vietnam, saying they did not qualify for refugee status.

Thomas Muller, persecution analyst at Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit, said it was another example of the tribal group’s vulnerability.

“These 13 Montagnards were part of over 200 who have fled Vietnam and crossed into Cambodia over the last months,” he said. “Knowing that all guarantees of fair treatment by the Vietnamese authorities on their return are questionable and that access to their home provinces in the Central Highlands is very restricted, it is likely that the Montagnards will find themselves in very difficult circumstances. The authorities will not only monitor them closely, but are likely to harass them and impose further restrictions.”