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6,000 UBCV monks, nuns and followers attend funeral service for Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang led by Deputy leader Thich Quang Do

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PARIS, 11 July 2008 (IBIB) – Despite threats by the authorities, round-the-clock Police surveillance, jamming of cell phones and other harassments, Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) led a solemn funeral service this morning at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery for the late UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, who died last Saturday. Almost one thousand UBCV monks and nuns, 5,000 lay-Buddhists and members of the UBCV Buddhist Youth Movement braved controls and surveillance to travel to the Monastery in Binh Dinh to pay their last respects to their leader. Over the past few days, Security Police had visited Pagodas all over Vietnam and prohibited Buddhists from travelling to Binh Dinh or organising funerals in local Pagodas. In some areas, Police told Buddhists that the funeral was already over, so they did not make the trip.

The Most Venerables Thich Quang Do, Thich Thien Hanh and Thich Vien Dinh
The Most Venerables Thich Quang Do, Thich Thien Hanh and Thich Vien Dinh

Around 200 wreaths and plaques honouring Thich Huyen Quang under his title of UBCV Supreme Patriarch were placed around the coffin, many of them sent by Buddhists, democracy activists and opposition political parties around the world. The local authorities ordered Thich Huyen Quang’s disciples to remove them immediately, but Venerable Thich Minh Tuan, disciple of the deceased Patriarch, refused. Faced with the determined crowd of Buddhists, the authorities did not insist. Monks told the International Information Bureau that Security Police had even slipped into Nguyen Thieu Pagoda the night before the funeral and cut off the word “Unified” on wreaths dedicated to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, to give the impression that they were offered to the State-sponsored VBC. Police also cut off the names of some of the pro-democracy activists and political groups.

“The fact that Vietnam did not interfere in the funeral is a victory for the international human rights community, and the result of concerted pressure from diplomats, legislators and civil society movements worldwide”, said Vo Van Ai. “UBCV followers were able to pay their last respects to Thich Huyen Quang in dignity and calm, and he was laid to rest by those who loved and supported him throughout his peaceful combat for religious freedom and human rights.”

Indeed, since the State-ontrolled media ran a virulent denunciation campaign last week accusing Thich Quang Do and “extremists disguised as Buddhist monks” of seeking to turn the funeral into an “antigovernment rally”, and announcing that it would be organised by the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church, statements of protest poured in from all over the world. The first came from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which said Vietnam was using Thich Huyen Quang’s death “to further threaten UBCV leaders and assert control over independent religious practices in Vietnam”, and Human Rights Watch, who warned that Vietnam risked “unnecessary confrontation with the Patriarch’s followers by trying to control him in death as in life”.

At the funeral, which began at 7.30am and lasted two hours, UBCV leaders announced that the Supreme Patriarch had left a last will and testament designating his successor and an “Edict” regulating the composition of the UBCV’s Supreme Bicameral Council (the Institute of the Sangha and the Executive Institute Vien Hoa Dao). They will be made public at a ceremony commemoration the 49 days of the Patriarch’s passing, according to Buddhist traditions.

Speaking before the late Patriarch’s coffin, UBCV Deputy leader Thich Quang Do declared:

“Over the past 30 years, from 1975 until today, whereas religious and political repression raged in Vietnam, you were like a great tree that brought us shade and shelter. You were the helmsman whose firm hand safely guided the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam through persecution and oppression. You sacrificed your own freedom in order to save our people and our faith. In return, you reaped nothing but hardships, humiliation and detention, to the point that you exclaimed: “I am a man without a home, I will die without a grave, I walk without a path and I am a prisoner without a crime!”

“You have left us for ever, but the struggle for UBCV legality goes on. We pledge to continue your peaceful combat, to follow the path you traced. We know that countless obstacles lie ahead, and we are ready to confront them. We will not cease until we have fulfilled your dream to see the UBCV regain its legal status and win back the freedom of religious activities stolen from us by the communist regime in 1975”.

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