PARIS, 3rd April 2008 (IBIB) – The outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) informs the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) that Security Police, local authorities and sections of the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church (VBC) are accelerating measures to “terrorize and harass” UBCV followers by seizing control of UBCV pagodas and expelling UBCV monks and nuns. According to the UBCV, this campaign is aimed at subduing all Pagodas refusing to submit to State control before UN International Vesak Day is celebrated in 55 cities all over Vietnam in May 2008.
l In Lam Dong Province, Venerable Thich Nhu Tan, Head of the Lam Dong UBCV Representative Board (1) told IBIB Director Vo Van Ai that the State-sponsored VBC in Lam Dong had issued “Decision No. 52” (17.3.2008) stripping UBCV monk Venerable Thich Tri Khai of his post of Superior monk of the Giac Hai Pagoda in Don Duong district, Lam Dong and ordering him to hand over the pagoda immediately to the VBC. They justified the Decision by a “petition” signed by 13 VBC Buddhists demanding the monk’s expulsion. Buddhists from Giac Hai Pagoda strongly protested, and 239 UBCV Buddhists signed a counter Petition on 19.3.2008 supporting Thich Tri Khai and denouncing Decision 52 as “unlawful and unconstitutional”. Security Police and officials from the Fatherland Front then intervened, intimidating and harassing local Buddhists. They even offered a “reward” of 500,000 VND (approx 33 US$) to anyone who denounced Thich Tri Khai. Since they all refused, on 31st March, Security Police summoned them for “working sessions” (interrogations), threatening reprisals against all those who signed the Petition.
Both Venerables Thich Nhu Tan and Thich Tri Khai strongly protested Decision 52 in letters to the local authorities. Thich Tri Khai declared that he would remain in Giac Hai Pagoda and oppose expulsion by non-violent resistance: “I will defend the Pagoda with my life”, he wrote, “until my very last breath, I will ensure it belongs to the UBCV”. Thich Tri Khai, who was formerly a member of the VBC, said he left the State-sponsored body because it was “a political, not a religious organization which cannot decide its own religious affairs, but follows orders from the Fatherland Front and the Communist Party”. Giac Hai Pagoda was built over 50 years ago, long before the Communists took power in 1975. It thus belonged to the UBCV, he said, and the State had no right to claim control of it. Thich Nhu Tan said that the UBCV would support the legitimate protest of Thich Tri Khai, and continue to struggle by peaceful means for the re-establishment of the UBCV’s legal status and the respect of human rights and religious freedom for all the Vietnamese people. In his letter of protest, he called on the United Nations and international human rights organizations to help.
l In Quang Tri Province, Venerable Thich Tu Giao, Head of the Quang Tri UBCV Representative Board sent an urgent communication today to UBCV Deputy leader Thich Quang Do, with a copy to the International Buddhist Information Bureau reporting brutal Police repression at Phuoc Hue pagoda in Quang Tri.
On 1st April 2008, he wrote, 300 Security Police in uniform and plain clothes surrounded Phuoc Hue pagoda. They set up barriers on all roads leading to the pagoda and put up notices marked “Forbidden Area”, preventing all access. Accompanied by officials from the local State-sponsored VBC and local authorities, they rushed into Pagoda, threw Thich Tu Giao to the ground and began dismantle the Pagoda’s gate, smash the kitchen and warehouse, and vandalise the office. They also took down Buddhist flags and destroyed a Buddha Statue. Police assaulted a number of young Buddhists who tried to film the scene and seized their cameras and mobile phones. Thich Tu Giao’s elderly mother was thrown to the ground, dragged into a Police car and taken away. Security Police also took a member of the Buddhist Youth Movement for interrogations at a nearby Police station.
When Security Police left, Thich Tu Giao discovered they had stolen a laptop computer, a mobile phone and 83 million VND in cash (approx. US$ 5,530) donated by local Buddhists to build a lotus pool and pave the Pagoda’s courtyard. This is the second time Police have vandalized Phuoc Hue Pagoda. On 19.4.2007, the kitchen and warehouse were destroyed and just been rebuilt by the congregation. “This is not just an act of vandalism”, wrote Thich Tu Giao in his letter to Thich Quang Do. “It is deliberate repression against the UBCV and the monks of the Quang Tri Representative Board”.
(1) Although the UBCV is not recognised by the Government, since 2005 it has set up over 20 local representative boards to provide spiritual and humanitarian aid to poor people in the Central and Southern provinces. Venerable Thich Quang Do, Head of the UBCV’s Executive Institute Vien Hoa Dao formally notifies the authorities when each new board is set up. Generally perceived as “illegal organisations”, the UBCV monks and nuns who run these local boards suffer routine harassments and repression. Nevertheless, they strive to continue their activities despite the government ban.