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Police stop sect leaders celebrating founder's birthday

Hoa Hao Buddhist group claims officials are being monitored around the clock in Vietnam and cannot leave homes.

 
Chau Doc: 

Police in Vietnam's southern provinces have kept followers and leaders of an unrecognized Hoa Hao Buddhist sect from celebrating the sect founder’s birthday.

“Police have kept our leaders at their homes and stationed themselves in front of their houses around the clock,” said Nguyen Van Cuong, head of the communication committee of Hoa Hao Buddhism of Purity.

Cuong said police in Dong Thap province prevented followers from visiting Nguyen Van Dien, head of the group.

Police also blocked roads to the house of a follower in Cho Moi district of An Giang province, where leaders of the group planned to celebrate the 98th birth anniversary of Huynh Phu So, who founded the sect, on Jan. 10-11.

“However, our leaders and followers erected altars at homes and hung flags and banners celebrating the event,” Cuong said.

He said some 100 followers gathered to celebrate the feast at two places in An Giang province and Can Tho city.

Hoa Hao Buddhist sources said in November police had ordered Dien and other leaders not to celebrate the founder’s birth anniversary because “your organization is illegal and not recognized by the government.”

Sources said police threatened to arrest Dien after he called on his followers to “determine to organize the event to show our fidelity to the founder and protect our faith at any price.”

Sources said the state-approved Hoa Hao Buddhist group led by retired officials and Communist Party members were free to hold the event at An Hoa Pagoda, its headquarters, and 390 other places in provinces. An estimated 400,000 followers went on a pilgrimage to the pagoda and the House of the Founder, which are considered the cradle of the sect.

Pilgrims were given free food and accommodation during the ceremony by local people.

Anniversaries of the sect’s foundation and the founder’s birthday and death are considered the three biggest feasts of followers.

Sources said the state-approved group is banned from observing the founder’s death, which was blamed on communists who killed him while he had a meeting with them in 1947.

All religious organizations in Vietnam are required to be recognized by the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, which controls all religious activities and issues laws on religion.

The committee only recognizes religious groups whose leaders accept the government’s involvement in religions’ internal affairs.

Many Christian groups and indigenous faiths such as Cao Dai and Hoa Hao deny the government’s involvement and are consequently not recognized by the government. These unrecognized faiths are seen as illegal and suffer severe persecution and harassment. They are not allowed to build facilities and hold religious activities.

Vietnam officially recognizes 39 religious organizations from 13 religions, with a total of 24 million followers, served by 83,000 clergy out of a population of 90 million.

Source: UCAN

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