PARIS, 24 June 2008 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS) – As the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung embarked on a 4-day official visit in the United States from 23-26 June, and will be received at the White House by U.S. President George W. Bush today, Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of Paris-based Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam and International spokesman of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) sent a letter to President Bush urging him to demand “measurable, concrete progress” in human rights, especially religious freedom, in his meeting with the Vietnamese Prime Minister.
Mr. Ai particularly called for the re-establishment of the legitimate status of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Vietnam’s largest civil society movement and an “essential voice for the voiceless people of Vietnam”. He also called for the urgent transfer of the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang to Saigon for medical treatment. Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, who is seriously ill, has been treated at the Quy Nhon General Hospital in Binh Dinh province for grave breathing problems since 28th May 2008. He is in need of urgent specialized care, but the local authorities refuse to let him be transported to Saigon. Mr. Ai warned that the UBCV Patriarch may be “in danger of his life” if Vietnam did not take urgent action to lift the travel ban.
Mr. Ai also urged President Bush to raise the case of UBCV Deputy leader and prominent dissident Thich Quang Do: “The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, a 2008 Nobel Peace prize nominee is an illegal citizen today, deprived of his citizenship rights. Released in a government amnesty in 1998, then detained under strict Police surveillance and control, Thich Quang Do has never been delivered the obligatory residence permit or “ho khau”. Without this document, he is liable to be arrested at any time. Thich Quang Do is forbidden to preach at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon. Security Police keep watch outside his door, and prevent him approaching the microphone to address his congregation”.
Noting that President Bush was scheduled to highlight his attachment to respect for human rights at today’s meeting, Mr. Ai regretted that this attachment “is not shared by Prime Minister Dung and the leadership of Communist Vietnam”. Last year, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet told President Bush that “Vietnam did not need to improve its human rights record”, for its perception of human rights was “different” from the United States. President Triet subsequently “put his words into practice by pursuing one of Vietnam’s worst crackdowns on dissent, sentencing scores of pro-democracy activists, trade unionists, human rights defenders and religious leaders simply for their peaceful appeals for democratic reform” in 2007.
“Bilateral cooperation on trade, security or regional economic integration cannot be built on this dialogue of the deaf”, said Vo Van Ai. “All UN member states have a binding commitment to respect the rights enshrined in the UN Charter, and Vietnam is no exception to the rule. Human rights are the keys to sustainable development and economic prosperity. They are also indispensable to international security. How can Vietnam play a relevant role on the UN Security Council whilst it creates insecurity at home by repressing its own citizens’ rights?”
Religious freedom remains an “urgent and fundamental concern” in Vietnam, stressed Mr. Ai. “When the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) made an inquiry mission to Vietnam in October 2007, Prime Minister Dung told them there were no religious freedom violations in Vietnam. Yet the USCIRF found abuses so grave and widespread that they recommended the re-designation of Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern”.
Repression against the UBCV had “intensified alarmingly” in the run-up to UN Day of the Vesak hosted by Hanoi in May 2008, he said, when “UBCV pagodas were seized to use for State-sponsored celebrations, monks expelled from their pagodas, interrogated and harassed. UBCV monk Thich Tri Khai was expelled from Giac Hai Pagoda in Lam Dong Province and subjected to intensive Police interrogations. He disappeared on 7th May and has never been seen since. I fear he has been arrested by Security Police”.
In conclusion, Mr. Ai called on President Bush to press the Vietnamese Prime Minister to :
a) re-establish the legitimate status of the outlawed UBCV and guarantee freedom of religious activity;
b) lift all restrictions on UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy Thich Quang Do, and restore their full citizenship rights (including the residence permit, right to freedom of movement and communications, right to religious activity);
c) allow UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, who is currently undergoing treatment for breathing problems and a heart condition at the Quy Nhon General Hospital in Binh Dinh, to be transported to Saigon, where he can have access to specialized, urgent treatment. Hospitalized in Binh Dinh since 28 May 2008, the UBCV Patriarch is gravely ill, and in danger of his life. The local authorities have refused him permission to travel;
d) account for the whereabouts of UBCV monk Thich Tri Khai, who was last seen in presence of Security Police in Lam Dong province, and restore his function of Superior monk at Giac Hai Pagoda.
“These simple but fundamental demands will demonstrate to Prime Minister Dung that your attachment to human rights and freedom of religious in Vietnam is real and profound, and impress upon him that the United States will not be content with words alone. At the same time, you will demonstrate your solidarity with the plight of the persecuted UBCV, and give hope to millions of oppressed democrats in Vietnam”.