The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) has received a statement from Buddhist dissident Thich Tri Luc (secular name Pham Van Tuong) with the request that it be made public to the international media. Sent from Sweden, where he has been granted political asylum, the statement describes Thich Tri Luc’s views and reveals the conditions under which he was exiled from Vietnam.
A former monk and member of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) Thich Tri Luc, 50, fled to Cambodia in April 2002 to escape religious persecution. He was granted refugee status by the UNHCR, but was kidnapped by Vietnamese and Cambodian security agents on 25 July 2002 in Phnom Penh and forcibly returned to Vietnam, where he was detained in secret for almost two years. Vietnam denied all knowledge of Thich Tri Luc’s whereabouts until IBIB revealed that he was jailed in B34 Prison in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). On 12 March 2004, he was put on trial at the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court and sentenced to 20 months prison on charges of “fleeing the country with the intent to oppose the people’s government”. He had already spent over 19 months in detention without trial. On his release, as a UN-recognized refugee, Thich Tri Luc was allowed to leave Vietnam for resettlement in Sweden, where he arrived on 23 June 2004.
In the statement, Thich Tri Luc stressed his support for the UBCV, which he said had been “banned and repressed systematically by the Communist authorities since they took power in 1975”. “Like so many UBCV monks and nuns, I have suffered bitter humiliation, harassment and imprisonment under the repressive Communist regime. For the first time in over a decade, I have taken my first sweet breaths of freedom and democracy here in Sweden, this peaceful land where human rights are truly enjoyed by all”.
He expressed “infinite gratitude to the government and the people of Sweden, this Scandinavian country which has generously offered asylum to so many Vietnamese fleeing persecution and seeking freedom overseas. For them all, this country is their second homeland. And now, it is my turn to be saved by Sweden, after spending so many long nights in the prisons of Communist Vietnam”. He also thanked the international media, governments and all human rights organizations “to whom I owe my freedom”. “From the bottom of my heart, I thank the UN Human Rights Commission, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), international human rights organizations such as the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights etc… I am also deeply grateful to all Members of Congress and Parliament in democratic countries around the world who worked tirelessly for my release”.
Speaking freely for the first time, Thich Tri Luc described how Vietnamese Security officials forced him to keep silent at his trial in exchange for freedom : “Before I was put on trial, officials from the Ministry of Public Security came several times to see me in prison to “negotiate”. They told me not to state publicly at my trial that I was arrested in Phnom Penh and to plead guilty of breaking the law i.e. “fleeing abroad with a view to opposing the people’s administration”. In return, they promised to release me immediately after the trial, even though the statutory penalty for this crime, as stipulated in the charge sheet laid against me, was 3 to 12 years in prison. I couldn’t help laughing at this – who has ever heard of a government negotiating a prisoner’s silence before putting him on trial ?”
After the authorities released Thich Tri Luc from prison, they were obliged to allow the UNHCR to place him under UN protection. However, they continued to threaten and pressure the former monk : “Since the refugee status granted to me on 28 June 2002 was still valid, the Vietnamese authorities… were obliged to issue me a passport and allow me to leave the country. This was their duty, they granted me no favour. On the contrary, before I left Vietnam, they made me write a statement promising that after emigrating I would undertake no actions aimed at opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.
Thich Tri Luc was obliged to write this pledge and submit it to the Ho Chi Minh Security Police. However, he said, this will not prevent him “doing my utmost to support the UBCV”.
“Now I am living in a free and democratic country, I will continue to support the UBCV, even though I am no longer a monk. I will continue to press the Hanoi government to respect religious freedom, human rights and democracy. I call upon Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience who are detained for the peaceful expression of their political opinions. In my opinion, these activities are in no way aimed at opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. They are not “political” activities aimed at threatening the State’s interests, as some people have tried to insinuate. I am simply asking that we be given back the things that the Communist authorities have unlawfully and unjustly confiscated”.
Thich Tri Luc recalled the persecution he endured in Vietnam because of his peaceful religious and humanitarian activities. “I was detained for 30 months in prison and 5 years under house arrest in Vietnam simply for helping to organize a UBCV humanitarian mission to relieve flood victims in the Mekong Delta in 1994. After I finished my sentence, the authorities continued to harass me and deprive me of my basic rights. Finally, I had no other choice but to escape to Cambodia to seek asylum on 19.4.2002. The right to seek asylum is enshrined in Article 14 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted on 10.12.1948 which states : “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.
He conveyed his “deepest respects to the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, the Very Venerable Thich Quang Do and all the UBCV leadership…I bow down respectfully before my elders, and wish them strength and courage to guide the UBCV through this period of turmoil”.
“The UBCV is heir to an age-old tradition handed down by our forefathers over successive generations. It has never been the vassal of any political power. The UBCV is deeply attached to the Vietnamese people and inextricably linked to their fate.. I have chosen to follow the just path traced by the UBCV, and I vow to continue…. The spirit of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam is indomitable”.