Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh (UCAN)

Senior Catholics in Vietnam have issued a statement to high-ranking communist officials criticising the country’s new religion law, due to come into effect in January 2018, reports UCANews.

The Law on Belief and Religion – the first ever law on religions since Vietnam was re-unified under communist rule in 1975 – “continues to strengthen the asking-and-granting mechanism,” Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam and Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Kham, its secretary general, said in a signed statement.

“The mechanism shows that religious freedom is really not considered a human right but a grace that needs permission (from the government),” they added.

The bishops’ statement was addressed to Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, chairwoman of the National Assembly, and 500 mostly Communist Party assembly members who are attending their month-long meeting in Hanoi.

The bishops also criticised the government’s views of religions and religious organisations. “The government views pure religions with political aspects and regards them as antagonistic forces,” the statement said.

In 2015 World Watch Monitor reviewed how Vietnam’s Law on Belief and Religion came into being.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese officials have been accused of using shameful and divisive tactics to force a prisoner of conscience to give up his struggle for religious freedom.

When Tran Thi Hong, the wife of imprisoned pastor, Nguyen Cong Chinh, visited him in prison in May she learned that officials had told her husband that she had been unfaithful.

“The communist government maliciously lied to separate our family and force my husband to accept his crimes as a condition for his freedom,” Tran said. Nguyen was sentenced to 11 years in 2011 for undermining national solidarity.