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As Buddhists in Vietnam celebrate the 2550th Vesak Anniversary : Vietnam harasses members of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam

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PARIS, 12 May 2006 (IBIB) – As State-sponsored Buddhist organisations celebrate the 2550th Anniversary of the Vesak (Birth of Buddha) in Vietnam today (15th day of the 4th Lunar month, i.e. 12th May 2006), the authorities are tightening controls on the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. Security Police have stepped up harassment against members of UBCV representative boards in the southern and central provinces, and UBCV leaders are held under permanent surveillance.

In a Vesak Message to UBCV Buddhists at home and abroad sent clandestinely from the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh where the UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang is “currently held under severe restrictions, isolated from the Buddhist clergy and followers”, the UBCV Patriarch declared : “As we celebrate the Vesak today, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam remains outlawed and suffers continuous persecution. The Head of the UBCV’s Executive Institute [Thich Quang Do] and I, along with many other members of the UBCV’s Bi-cameral Institutes are under surveillance, intimidated, isolated and forbidden to meet each other ; all the members of the UBCV Provincial Representative Boards are systematically harassed and repressed ; the UBCV cannot pursue its religious activities…”

Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 86, who has spent almost 30 years in detention, internal exile and house arrest, urged UBCV followers to brave repression and continue their peaceful struggle : “I call upon all Buddhist monks, nuns and lay-followers to face adversity with courage, not be discouraged by hardship, never submit to the forces of violence… The road before us is long and strewn with obstacles. But we must not stop until we fulfill our mission to re-establish the legal status of the UBCV”.

The detained UBCV Patriarch also launched an appeal to the Vietnamese government on this day of Vesak to “restore the UBCV’s freedom of religious activities, implement a policy of true religious freedom towards all religious denominations, and fulfill the people’s aspirations establishing a free and democratic society in Vietnam.”

l Security Police continue to harass and intimidate members of the new 13 UBCV representative boards set up in Saigon and several central and southern provinces. The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) received an urgent appeal today from Thich Khong Tanh, Superior monk of Lien Tri pagoda (Thu Duc), Head of the UBCV Representative Board in Saigon-Gia Dinh, and UBCV Commissioner for Social and Humanitarian Affairs. Security Police have cut of his phone at the Lien Tri Pagoda for the past three weeks and placed him under permanent surveillance. Thich Khong Tanh received a summons from the 2nd District’s People’s Security Police Unit to appear for questioning on 10th May about his “participation in an illegal organisation”. He sent a letter of refusal to the Police : “I will not accept any convocation from the Police unless the government ceases repressing Buddhists and restores full freedom to the UBCV. Vietnam should respect the provisions of its Constitution and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which it is a signatory”. Thich Khong Tanh appealed to IBIB to mobilise international support if Police pursue action against him.

l UBCV monks Thich Thien Minh in Bac Lieu province and Thich Chon Tam in An Giang have also been subjected to harassments. Released in 2005 after 26 years in a labour camp, Thich Thien Minh has been under consistent surveillance since his release, and he and his relatives have received death threats if he does not cease criticising Vietnam’s human rights record on the international media. Thich Thien Minh has repeatedly applied to the local authorities to return the Vinh Binh Pagoda in Bac Lieu, which was confiscated and destroyed on his arrest in 1979. The local authorities originally promised to “investigate” this if he joined the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church, but Thich Thien Minh refused. On 3rd May 2006, the local People’s Committee summoned Thich Thien Minh and informed him of their refusal to return his pagoda (Decision 14/QD-UBND). They cited as pretexts that Thich Thien Minh had no papers to prove he was Superior monk of the Vinh Binh Pagoda, that he was not recognized as a monk by the (State-sponsored) Vietnam Buddhist Church in Bac Lieu Province, and called for sanctions against Thich Thien Minh : “The local authorities are hereby mandated to supervise and educate Mr Huynh Van Ba (Thich Thien Minh) and oblige him to implement Vietnamese law and cease immediately all activities aimed at exploiting religion to write slanderous declarations, distort the truth and disturb security, public order and safety within the locality”.

This refusal has serious implications for Thich Thien Minh. Denied legal residence rights in the pagoda, Thich Thien Minh is not entitled to the obligatory “ho khau” (residence permit) and thus remains an illegal citizen, liable to be arrested at any moment. Thich Thien Minh immediately sent a letter of protest to the local authorities, with copies to Thich Quang Do and the State-Sponsored VBC in Bac Lieu, stating that (a) the papers proving his rights as Superior monk of Vinh Binh Pagoda were confiscated by Bui Van Le, Head warden of the Vinh Loi reeducation camp on his arrest in 1979, and (b) the VBC in Bac Lieu did not recognise him as a monk because the VBC did not exist when he was arrested in 1979. He was registered as a monk in Bac Lieu by the UBCV in 1972. By the time the VBC was created by the Communist Party in 1981, he was in reeducation camp for advocating religious freedom.

Thich Chon Tam, Superior monk of Tay Hue Pagoda in the city of Chau Doc, An Giang Province, Head of the UBCV’s representative board in An Giang and UBCV Commissioner for Education, has also been subjected to systematic harassments. His telephone has been cut for several months, and in April 2006, the State-sponsored VBC in An Giang expelled him from Tay Hue Pagoda. He refused, but has suffered ceaseless threats and harassments since then. Recently, the VBC in An Giang organised a 7-day “Training seminar for Buddhist dignitaries” with over 100 monks and nuns from all over the province. Instead of focusing on Buddhist teachings, the whole seminar was devoted to attacks and denigration against the UBCV. In a letter to UBCV Deputy leader Thich Quang Do, Thich Chon Tam said : “The local Religious Board, the Fatherland Front and the CPV’s Mobilisation and Propaganda department used this seminar to accuse Thich Quang Do of seeking to overthrow the government, to slander IBIB Director Vo Van Ai… and spent a whole day denouncing the UBCV’s An Giang representative board”.

These harassments against the UBCV follow declarations by the Chairman of Vietnam’s Government Religious Board, Ngo Yen Thi on 24.4.2006 at the closure of the CPV’s 10th National Congress that Vietnam did not intend to restore the legal status of the banned UBCV.

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