The International Buddhist International Information Bureau (IBIB) has received a copy of a letter (dated 2.4.2004) from Venerable Thich Thien Hanh, senior monk of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) to the Communist authorities in Hue protesting incidents on March 29th 2004 in which members of the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City were prevented from visiting him at the Bao Quoc Pagoda in Hue.
Venerable Thich Thien Hanh, 75, Head of the Thua Thien-Hue Sangha (Order of Monks) and newly-appointed Secretary-general of the UBCV Institute of the Sangha, has been under administrative detention at Bao Quoc Pagoda by “verbal” orders of the local authorities since October 2003, when the government launched a crackdown on the new UBCV leadership elected by a UBCV Assembly at Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh province. In his “Letter of Protest” to the Chairmen of the local Communist Party, People’s Committee, Fatherland Front, and the Security Police Chief of Thua Thien-Hue, Thich Thien Hanh accused the Police and local authorities of deliberately creating traffic incidents to block access to the Pagoda and forcibly locking the pagoda door.
Venerable Thich Thien Hanh said that members of the US Consulate had an appointment to visit him at 3.00 p.m. on 29 March. Just before then, they called to say they had been delayed, and postponed the visit until 4.30 p.m. Suddenly, a large number of local Communist Party officials and Security Police, both in uniform and in plain clothes, surrounded Bao Quoc Pagoda and padlocked the entrance to the main gate. Local Buddhists and visitors were refused entrance. At the same time, a “car accident” – entirely stage-managed by Police, according to eye-witnesses – took place at the cross roads between Dien Dien Phu Street and the road to Bao Quoc Pagoda, attracting crowds of people and causing a huge traffic jam. The members of the US Consulate were completely blocked in their car, and finally had to abandon the visit. According to UBCV sources, Police told them that the road to Bao Quoc Pagoda was “not safe”, and that their security could not be guaranteed if they continued their way.
As these incidents took place, Security agents and traffic Police also gathered around the front gates of Tu Hieu and Chau Lam pagodas, blocking their entrance. Police turned back all traffic and prevented any taxis or other vehicles from entering the gates.
“This shameless action violates the rights of the Bao Quoc community of monks, and impedes the peaceful exercise of their religious activities” wrote Thich Thien Hanh. “I vigorously protest against these lawless, arbitrary measures which constitute a flagrant abuse of our Pagoda’s inviolability. ”
The locking of Pagoda gates by Security Police is not only an illegal act, but one which violates a 2,000-year tradition of Vietnamese Buddhism. Throughout history, Buddhist pagodas have always been places of refuge, and their doors are never locked to the people. This recent act of Police aggression is therefore deeply offensive to the people of Hue, who are in majority devout Buddhist followers, and have a strong tradition of anti-government dissent. In May 1993, in the largest public protest since the end of the Vietnam war, 40,000 Buddhists demonstrated in Hue to protest repression against the UBCV and call for religious freedom in Vietnam.