HANOI, Oct 13 (AFP) – A senior monk involved in a lengthy stand-off with Vietnamese security forces last week has been placed under house arrest for two years as part of the communist regime’s crackdown on an outlawed Buddhist church.
The order against Thich Nguyen Ly, treasurer of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), came into effect on Saturday after being signed by the deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, Nguyen Thanh Tai.
A copy of the order obtained by AFP showed that the 50-year-old monk had been placed under house arrest for 24 months for violating national security legislation.
The Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB), which is the UBCV’s overseas information arm, said Monday that two other monks involved in Wednesday’s stand-off had also been placed under house arrest for two years.
The IBIB named the monks as Thich Tue Sy and Thich Thanh Huyen.
The three monks were accompanying UBCV patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and his deputy Thich Quang Do from the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in the central province of Binh Dinh to Ho Chi Minh City when their vehicle was blocked by police.
After a 10-hour stand-off outside the monastery they were allowed to proceed, but they were stopped again by police in Khanh Hoa province the following morning and taken in for questioning.
Quang, who has been under effective house arrest without charge or trial for more than two decades, was taken back to Binh Dinh. The 76-year-old deputy Do, a 2003 Nobel Peace Prize nominee who was released from two years of house arrest in late June, was taken to Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City.
Both have been put under unofficial house arrest and their monasteries placed under round-the-clock surveillance, the IBIB said.
Foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung remained silent over the claims, saying he had no information to add to his Saturday statement in which he accused the monks of being in possession of documents containing state secrets.
Dung also charged Quang and Do of secretly reorganizing the UBCV with overseas help to “sabotage” the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Church.
According to the IBIB, UBCV monks have suffered a wave of harassment since early last month when police heard that Quang and Do had called a special assembly on September 16-19 to reorganize the structure of the church.
Western diplomats have publicly and privately condemned this renewed crackdown against the UBCV, which was outlawed by the communist regime in 1981 because it refused to become part of the state-sanctioned Buddhist church.
Earlier this year, the regime appeared to change tactics towards the church, with Prime Minister Phan Van Khai holding a landmark meeting with Quang in April.
UBCV sources say the government subsequently tried to persuade the 86-year-old monk to take up a senior position in the state-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church — an offer he has consistently refused.
Rebuffed, Hanoi, observers say, now appears to be stepping up its efforts to curtail the UBCV’s activities in the face of international criticism.
The US administration is under mounting domestic pressure to take action against Hanoi over its human rights record and next weekend the US State Department’s Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom is due to visit Vietnam.
Last week Defence Minister Pham Van Tra, a hardliner, said in a newspaper editorial that more efforts were needed to counter “hostile forces” pursuing a strategy of “peaceful evolution” to cause instability in the country.