PARIS, 1st January 2014 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) is concerned to announce that Buddhist activist Lê Công Câu was arrested at 10.15 (Vietnam time) this morning at Phu Bai Airport near Hue. He had boarded a plane bound for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) when Security Police took him off the plane and detained him for questioning. Buddhists in Hue who witnessed the scene informed IBIB this morning. There has been no news of his whereabouts since then. Lê Công Câu is head of the Buddhist Youth Movement (Gia đình Phật tử Việt Nam), affiliated to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).
Lê Công Câu was going to visit UBCV Patriarch and prominent dissident Thich Quang Do, who is under de facto house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon. Buddhists in Vietnam are extremely concerned about the health and situation of the 86-year UBCV leader, who has been held under conditions of extreme isolation at the Monastery since the beginning of last month.
On 9th December 2013, Thich Quang Do issued Executive Order No. 10 dismissing two senior UBCV monks for grave violations of the UBCV Charter; Venerable Thich Vien Dinh, the UBCV Deputy leader and Head of the UBCV Secretariat at the Giac Hoa pagoda in Saigon and Venerable Thich Vien Ly, head of the Overseas UBCV based in California, USA. Following Thich Vien Dinhs dismissal, the UBCV Secretariat is no longer at Giac Hoa Pagoda and will shortly be moved elsewhere. Since Thich Quang Do made this announcement, he has no longer received visits from the monks of Giac Hoa Pagoda as in the past. Lê Công Câu and members of the Buddhist Youth Movement have been taken turns to visit the Patriarch and ensure he is in good health, hence his trip to Saigon from Hue today.
Lê Công Câu was previously detained in March 2013 and interrogated for three days for posting articles on the Internet calling on Vietnam to re-establish the UBCVs legitimate status and cease repression against UBCV Buddhists. Police accused him of violating Article 87 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code on “undermining the unity policy” and Article 88 on “circulating anti-state propaganda”, offences which carry prison sentences of up to fifteen and twenty years.
“Detaining Lê Công Câu simply for seeking to pay a visit to an elderly monk is a serious violation of the right to religious freedom”, said IBIB director Vo Van Ai. “Vietnam will host the UN International Vesak Day (Buddhas Birth) this year and claims to respect the rights of Buddhists and other religious communities. It should demonstrate its commitment by immediately releasing Lê Công Câu”.
The Buddhist Youth Movement (Gia đình Phật tử Việt Nam) is an educational organization affiliated to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). Although the UBCV is effectively banned by the communist authorities, the Youth movement has a semi-official status because of its widespread social, humanitarian and educational activities which are tolerated by government. It has some 500,000 members in Vietnam.