PARIS, 11 February 2014 (Vietnam Committee) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights is honoured to present exclusive audio messages by prominent dissident Thich Quang Do, leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), and Le Cong Cau, head of the UBCV-affiliated Buddhist Youth Movement. The messages were made public at a meeting on “Banned Civil Society Voices” at the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday 4 February 2014, organized by the VCHR and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
Le Cong Cau sent this message in Vietnamese from Hue:
Distinguished guests and Human Rights Defenders,
My name is Lê Công Cầu, and I live in Hue, central Vietnam. I am a human rights defender, and head of the Buddhist Youth Movement (BYM). The BYM is an educational movement founded in the 1940s. It is modeled on the Scouts association, and is affiliated to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). Because the UBCV is not recognized by the Communist government, the BYM does not have an official status. However, our activities are tolerated because we provide much-needed education for young people. The BYM has some 300,000 members in Vietnam today.
Recently, we began to include human rights education as part of our activities. At a summer camp in central Vietnam this year, we held a seminar on Internet freedom to discuss the role of new technologies in expanding our knowledge. Vietnam is a signatory to United Nations instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and human rights are enshrined in our Constitution. We believe that young people should learn about human rights if they are to become good citizens of Vietnam.
Because of this, the authorities have begun to crack-down on our movement. I am particularly targeted. In March last year, I was arrested and interrogated non-stop for three days. Police accused me of writing articles calling for human rights and criticizing government policies. They threatened to imprison me on charges of “circulating anti-Socialist propaganda”, a crime that carries up to 20 years in prison.
This year, on January 1st, I was arrested again at Phu Bai airport near Hue as I set off to meet members of my movement in Ho Chi Minh City. Police took me off the plane on the pretext that I was suspected of carrying “terrorist” materials in my suitcase. Of course, they found nothing, but they confiscated my laptop computer, flash-drives and cell phone and subjected me to intensive interrogations. Although I am not charged with any crime, I am now under house arrest at my home in Hue. Police are posted outside my door, and I am summoned continuously for Police interrogations. During a recent interrogation, a Security officer said he just had to sign warrant and I would be thrown into jail.
Following my arrest, several other members of the Buddhist Youth Movement in Hue were subjected to harassments. Nguyen Tat Truc was detained for questioning from 6 to 9 January and accused of “violating the law” because he signed letters on behalf of our movement. He is now under house arrest. As a result, his family is now in grave financial difficulty, because they rely on his wife’s earnings in order to survive, yet he is forbidden to drive outside his district to take her to work. Another senior BYM member, Hoang Nhu Dao, was interrogated by Police and also accused of “illegal activities”. Police are now posted outside his home, frightening his wife and young children. As I speak to you today, more than one hundred members of the Buddhist Youth Movement from Hue and the central provinces are under house arrest without any justification or charge, simply for exercising their legitimate right to association and peaceful assembly.
I am launching this message at the United Nations today as a cry of alarm. This may be my last opportunity to speak out, as I am told that I may be arrested in the coming days. I do not fear imprisonment. I take full responsibility for my legitimate and peaceful acts, and I am ready to face the consequences, whatever they may be. Last week, after 20 days under house arrest without charge, I wrote to the local Security Police protesting my arbitrary detention. I demanded that they formally indict me and put me on trial – if not, they must release me immediately. But they made no reply. I am appalled that Vietnam can treat its citizens so unfairly, and I refuse to remain silent in face of such injustice.
Human rights defenders in Vietnam today face unprecedented Police brutality, harassments and arbitrary detention simply for peacefully exercising rights that are guaranteed in our Constitution. We are accused of “anti-Socialist” activities, but in reality we are simply working to protect and promote the legitimate rights of our people, as guaranteed in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Buddhist Youth Movement is committed to education, for we believe that knowledge and understanding form the very basis of progressive and dynamic society. The right to education is enshrined in the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Vietnam is a state party. By repressing my members and prohibiting our activities, Vietnam is violating its binding commitments to its citizens and to the international community.
As you meet to consider the second Universal Periodic Review of Vietnam, I call on all governmental delegations to examine the plight of human rights defenders, and press Vietnam to take concrete steps to improve our situation. Specifically, Vietnam should bring domestic legislation into line with its international treaty commitments, and respect the principle of the harmonization of laws enshrined in the Law on the Ratification and Implementation of International Treaties adopted in 2005.
Vaguely-worded “national security” provisions in the Criminal Code such as Article 88 on “spreading anti-Socialist propaganda” should be repealed, for they enable the State to imprison people at will, with total impunity. Human rights must be protected by the rule of law, otherwise, they are meaningless. Vietnamese human rights defenders should be entitled to pursue their activities freely, and not be forced to live in silence and slavery by the one-Party State.