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Buddhist leader Thich Quang Do speaks out on the arrest of Rafto Foundation representative Therese Jebsen in Saigon

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Thich Quang Do & Therese Jebsen (Photo IBIB & Rafto Foundation)
Therese Jebsen
(Photo IBIB & Rafto Foundation)

On 15th March 2007 at 9.00am, Therese Jebsen of the Rafto Foundation came to the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon to meet Venerable Thich Quang Do and hand him the Award Certificate of the 2006 Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for Human Rights Defenders. The Vietnamese government had refused to let Thich Quang Do travel to Bergen, Norway to receive the prize in November 2006, and UBCV spokesman Vo Van Ai accepted the award on his behalf. Vietnam also refused the Rafto Foundation Chairman Arne Lynngård’s request in February 2007 to visit Vietnam and present the Award in person. Immediately after Therese Jebsen and her colleagues arrived at the Monastery, a group of “Cong An” (Security Police) broke in and arrested them, preventing them from talking to Thich Quang Do. The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) managed to contact Thich Quang Do immediately after they had left for the Police Station. He described the event in the following interview with IBIB’s Penelope Faulkner (Y Lan). The interview was broadcast on Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese Service on Friday 16th March 2007 at 6.30am (Vietnam time).

Y Lan : Venerable Thich Quang Do, I understand that Therese Jebsen from the Rafto Foundation was arrested by Security Police as she came to visit you this morning (15 March) at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery. Can you explain what exactly happened ?

Venerable Thich Quang Do : Yesterday, I learned that Ms. Therese Jebsen was coming to visit me. She had arrived in Saigon two days before, and arranged to come to the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery at 9.00am today (Thursday 15th March). She arrived at exactly 9.00 this morning, just an hour ago, with two other people, a man and a young woman. I sat downstairs in the Monastery’s waiting room so I could take her to the sitting room upstairs. When she arrived, I went out into the courtyard to greet her. I had a bouquet of flowers for her. However, just as we have walked a few steps together, before I could even give her the flowers, a group of Security Police burst in. One was wearing a Police uniform, the others wore plain clothes. They intercepted us and ordered Therese Jebsen to go with them to the Police Station.

I tried to dissuade them, in fact I almost pleaded with them, explaining that she was a foreign guest who had travelled a long way to meet me. It was purely a friendly visit, nothing else. I told them to show some hospitality towards this guests from overseas, and let me receive her for 30 minutes. Afterwards, you can take her with you, I said. But the Police were adamant. They insisted she must go with them at once.

Ms. Jebsen stood there looking so surprised and bewildered. I felt so terribly sorry for her. I’d only met her a few moments before, but I felt so deeply moved. It tore my heart. She tried to grasp me as if she was trying to tell me something. I told her not to worry. It was just a routine Police check, I said, they would ask a few questions, that’s all, nothing serious. I told her I had asked the Police to let her talk with me for half an hour, then go with them afterwards, but they had rejected my proposal, and insisted that she go with them at once.

I asked the Security Police where they were taking her. Just nearby to the local Police station, they said. How long will you be gone ? Only 15 minutes. That’s what they said, and that’s what I told Therese Jebsen. But deep down, I didn’t believe a word. Communists never do what they say, they never keep their promises. I have a lot of experience of Communism, I know what I’m talking about. However, I kept my thoughts to myself in order to reassure my guest.

So I’m still sitting here waiting. But although I am waiting, I have no hope that she will come. I don’t expect she will ever come back here.

Y Lan : What are your thoughts on this incident ?

Venerable Thich Quang Do : Most of all I feel sorry for Therese Jebsen. I feel such pity for her. Also, I feel deeply sad. I am sad and ashamed for my country. There is not a modicum of humanity, courtesy, or civilization left under this regime. The Communists are a bunch of hooligans. In all my life, I have never once begged for anything from the Communists. I have been imprisoned, banned to internal exile, but not once have I pleaded with them or uttered a word of entreaty. Yet today, for the very first time in my life, I pleaded with these Security Police because I felt so sorry for Theresa Jebsen. A foreigner who has come here for the first time, and that’s how they treat her ! I was struck by what Arne LynngÃ¥rd, [Rafto Foundation Chairman] said in an interview on BBC radio when they asked how he felt about Vietnam’s refusal to let him visit Vietnam. “It helped me to understand a lot of other things about Vietnam”, he said. The same goes for what happened today. When you see how Security Police treat a visitor from overseas, you understand under what kind of regime the 80 million Vietnamese are living today.

That is why democracy and freedom are absolutely vital. They are the medicine that we need to save our lives.

Today, many people around the world care only about economy and trade. They pour money and investment into our country and help to consolidate the power [of the communist regime]. They don’t care about the plight of 80 million people who are living in this vast prison we call Vietnam. It’s terrible. Oh, I am deeply, deeply ashamed. There is no culture left here. Not even the very minimal trace of culture. I am sad, outraged and ashamed for my country and my people. I think of this foreign guest who travelled so far to visit our country, and was subjected to such abominable treatment. What impressions will she take home of the Vietnamese Communist regime ?

Therefore, I call upon people from around the world, especially those who are investing or giving development aid to Vietnam, to draw lessons from today’s events. Instead of helping to strengthen the communist regime and prolong its survival, try to use your economic aid to save 80 million Vietnamese, and liberate them from the great prison in which they languish today.

If the [authorities] treat overseas guests in such a barbaric and cruel way, how do you think they treat their own people ? That is what makes me so sad and ashamed. I am ashamed for the culture, the customs, traditions, ethics and thinking of Vietnam. They have been reduced to nothing !

Y Lan : Thank you, Venerable Thich Quang Do.

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