VN Sect Attempts AIPO Protest, Arrested

Twelve Vietnamese members of the Cao Dai religious sect were held at the Interior Ministry Wednesday, a day after the group was arrested while attempting to de­liver a statement to Asean lawmakers calling on Vietnam to let them worship at a popular temple.

Dressed in long white religious robes, the six men and six wo­men were stopped by police Tues­day morning as they walked down Mao Tse Toung Boulevard toward the Hotel Inter­Con­ti­nent­al, site of this year’s Asean Inter-Par­lia­men­tary Organization meeting.

The suspects confessed to en­tering Cambodia illegally after traveling overland and by boat from their homes in Viet­nam’s Tay Ninh province, said Kong Saron, an official with the immigration police.

The group, whose members do not possess passports, traveled up the Me­kong Riv­er into Cambodia and then drove to a Cao Dai temple near the Hotel InterContinental, where they stayed for one night, said Sim Vuthy, deputy police chief of Chamkar Mon district.

The small group of religious adherents hoped to deliver a message, written in Vietnamese, to AIPO delegates, and also to the UN, he added.

“The statement, written in Viet­namese, asked Vietnam to re­open the Cao Dai temple in their native Tay Ninh province,” Sim Vuthy said.

Vietnamese Embassy press attache Nguyen Thanh Duc said that Vietnam respects religious freedom and that those arrested on Tuesday “are not legitimate rep­resentatives of any religious sect.”

“We don’t care about their ac­tions,” he said Wednes­day. “They tried to disturb the regional conference, and this is the response of the Cambodian au­thorities.”

Founded in Tay Ninh in 1926, Cao Daism combines a vast range of religious ideas, including  Chris­tianity, Buddhism, Islam and Conf­uc­ian­ism. Throughout its early years, hun­dreds of thousands of Viet­namese converted to Cao Daism, and it turned into a po­litical force during World War II and the war in Vietnam.

“After the fall of Saigon in 1975…Hanoi authorities were keen to reorganize all religious com­munities in southern Viet­nam in such a way as to destroy them as autonomous so­cial organizations,” wrote Christopher Hart­ney, a Uni­vers­ity of Sydney pro­fessor, in a paper on the Cao Dai sect, published  last year.

Unable to wor­ship freely,

ma­ny Cao Daists have fled Tay Ninh since the 1970s. Hartney wrote that Vietnam has prohibited worship at Cao Dai temples—even turning some into “fun parks” featuring loud secular music and “toy trains, slippery dips and swings.”


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