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Buddhist Youth leader Le Cong Cau risks prosecution for writing articles criticizing the Communist Party in Vietnam

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PARIS, 19 March 2013 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) is deeply concerned for the security of prominent Buddhist youth leader and writer Le Cong Cau who has been threatened with prosecution by Security Police after his articles criticizing the Communist Partys policies on Buddhism and territorial disputes with China were posted on the Internet. He is accused of violating Article 87 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code on “undermining the unity policy” and Article 88 on “circulating anti-state propaganda”. These offences carry prison sentences of up to fifteen and twenty years.

Le Cong Cau, 62, is Head of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnams Buddhist Youth Movement Commission (Gia đình Phật tử Việt Nam) (1) and an active coordinator of UBCV activities in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue. On 12 March, he was summoned by Security Police to come for a “working session” at the Truong An district Police station at 8.00am the following day. For the next two and a half days (13-15 March) he was subjected to intensive interrogations. Before releasing him, Police declared that they had obtained “sufficient evidence” to prosecute him under Articles 87 and 88 of the Criminal Code.

Le Cong Cau reported his ordeal to UBCV leader Thich Quang Do and Deputy leader Thich Vien Dinh. Alarmed by the gravity of the Police accusations, the UBCV leadership forwarded the report today to VCHR President Vo Van Ai, urging him to mobilize international support to protect Le Cong Cau. The VCHR is alerting the UN High Commission on Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council which is currently holding its 22nd session in Geneva.

Le Cong Caus report gives a detailed account of the Police interrogation. Unusually, it was not conducted by local police, but by an official from the Provincial Security Police, Nguyen Huu Chung, and two members of the Hue municipal Security Police. They began by showing Le Cong Cau several articles downloaded from the Internet which, they said, “slandered the regime and spread propaganda about an illegal organization named the UBCV”. They asked if he had written them and posted them on the Internet. Le Cong Cau affirmed he had written them all. He had not, however, posted them on the Internet himself, but sent them to the UBCV leadership who had forwarded them to the UBCVs information office in Paris, the International Buddhist Information Bureau.

Specifically, the Police accused Le Cong Cau of criticizing the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and calling for political change; advocating on behalf of the UBCV; and denouncing the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha as a political tool of the regime. Whilst admitting he had written on all these subjects, Le Cong Cau declared that he was expressing legitimate peaceful opinions, and thereby had committed no crime. The following extracts from his report give the tone of the exchange:

Officer Nguyen Huu Chung: Your articles slander the VCP and undermine the governments prestige. In your “Appeal to Boycott Chinese Goods”, you say that the VCP is submissive, that it kowtows and grovels to the Chinese and has sold off Vietnamese territories and waters. Do you admit your errors?

Le Cong Cau: No, these are not errors. It was Pham Van Dong who gave up [the Spratley and Paracel islands] to China with his diplomatic note in 1958. Now, when the Chinese shoot dead, imprison or plunder our fishermen, all you do is to send a feeble protest for forms sake, you dont even dare reprimand the Chinese Ambassador. I call that submissive and groveling. Why dont you take action like the Philippines [to bring China to court for violating the UNCLOS] or fight like our ancestors to protect our lands? You bring shame to our country. I will never accept that.

Officer Chung: Did you mastermind the UBCVs call for anti-China demonstrations in July 2012? Dont you know that its illegal to demonstrate without permission? Do you recognize your faults?

Le Cong Cau: The UBCV leadership called for demonstrations. I followed by urging members of the Buddhist Youth Movement to demonstrate in Hue, so we could match with the demonstrations in Hanoi and Saigon. The Constitution guarantees the right to demonstrate, so what have I done wrong?

Officer Chung: The Constitution is the mother of all laws. But there are “baby” laws, domestic legislation that you must respect!

Le Cong Cau: Which laws are bigger, the mother law or “baby” laws??

Officer Chung: You know that the UBCV is an illegal organization. You are an intellectual, why do you persist in supporting the UBCV and opposing the state on the UBCVs behalf? We know you are poor and in bad health. You live frugally on a diet of vegetarian sandwiches, and eat rice only once a day. What do you get out if it? Whats in it for you?

Le Cong Cau: The UBCV was a legal organization long before you came here. Its existence does not depend on any political regime. When the Republic of (South) Vietnam fell, the UBCV did not fall with it. I dont support the UBCV to oppose the Communist regime. I only speak the truth. You stripped the UBCV of its legitimate status, and I demand that you restore it. What do I get out if this? I do what I do because of my ideals. I am nobodys lackey. I am on nobodys payroll. I am a beggar who lives according his conscience and with the help of Buddhist masters and friends.

Officer Chung: You know very well that the VCP and the government will never accept to reestablish the UBCVs legitimate status. That is why you want to overthrow the Communist state, so you can win freedom for the UBCV. Am I right?

Le Cong Cau: You say that the VCP will never accept the UBCVs legal status? In that case, yes, I would like the VCPs one-Party system to give way to a regime based on the rule of law. But the UBCV is not only asking for freedom and legality for itself. Our goal is the freedom of 85 million Vietnamese. It is not written in the UBCVs statutes, but I believe that every UBCV member feels this way. We are inspired by this spirit of freedom.

Officer Chung: The only Buddhist organization recognized by the government is the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS). Yet you have written articles denouncing the VBS as a political tool of the Communist Party. Do you realize that creating divisions between religious followers is a criminal offence?

Le Cong Cau: You believe in Marxism and you denounce capitalism. This has resulted in a fratricidal war in Vietnam that led both sides to slaughter each other for over 20 years. Its you who have created divisions. Why are you blaming me?

On the last day of the interrogation, 15 March, Officer Chung made Le Cong Cau write a statement admitting that he had written articles accusing the VCP of selling off Vietnamese waters and lands; being submissive to China and repressive towards the Vietnamese people; persecuting religions and repressing pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders; advocating political pluralism; predicting the imminent demise of the Communist regime; and accusing the State-sponsored VBS of being a political tool of the VCP.

Le Cong Cau wrote the statement, but refused to recognize these acts as crimes. He tried to add to the statement: “I stand by my convictions and ideals. Everything I have done is in line with the rights enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution. All those who try to prevent me are violating our Constitution. I refuse to collaborate with those who trample on the Vietnamese Constitution”. However, the Security Police struck these words off the statement.

In conclusion, Officer Nguyen Huu Chung told Le Cong Cau: “Today you have given us enough evidence to have you arrested and convicted under Article 87 on “sowing divisions between the religious and non-religious people” and Article 88 on “propaganda against the Communist Party and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”. It depends on you whether your punishment is heavy or light. You had better stop, otherwise we will use heavier measures against you. Do you ask for our clemency to have a lighter sentence?”

Le Cong Cau replied: “If you arrest and sentence me, I will not ask for the clemency of the Party or the government. I accept full responsibility for my acts”.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights wholly endorses the right of Le Cong Cau to freely express his peaceful opinions. This right is guaranteed in Article 69 of the Vietnamese Constitution and Article 19 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam acceded in 1982, which enshrines the right of all people to “receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers”.

The VCHR calls on the international community to urgently press Vietnam to cease all Police harassments against Le Cong Cau and guarantee his safety and security. “Vietnam cannot expect UN member states to seriously consider its bid for membership of the Human Rights Council at the UN General Assembly in September 2013 if it continues to trample so blatantly on its citizens basic rights” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai.

(1) 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.

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