GENEVA, Apr 5, 2005 (AFP) – Leading Vietnamese dissident Thich Quang Do said in a message smuggled out of Vietnam Tuesday that the government could not hold back the peaceful struggle for democracy in the country.
A transcript of the «secret» message from the Buddhist leader detained in Ho Chi Minh City was released by a Vietnamese human rights group on the sidelines of the UN human rights commission in Geneva.
Do, deputy leader of the banned Unified Buddhist church, called for three «first steps» towards democracy in Vietnam, including the recognition of his church and all religions, the right to run an independent newspaper and the release of all political and religious prisoners.
«In Vietnam today we are not free. We are prisoners in our own country, in our pagodas, in our homes,» Do said, according to the transcript.
«Buddhists and Vietnamese people from all walks of life are calling out urgently for freedom, democracy and human rights,» the message said.
«The authorities try to stifle our voice by repression, imprisonment and violence. But they cannot stifle the people’s will.»
«We shall continue our peaceful struggle. We will not stop until we realise our aspirations for democracy in Vietnam,» Do added.
Urging international support, Do said he was under house arrest at Thanh Minh Zen monastery in Ho Chi Minh City and his telephone was cut.
«I am sending you this message to ask your help to bring our voices to the world… We are not afraid but we know we cannot win this battle alone,» he said.
Representatives of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights told AFP the original video message was seized by Vietnamese secret police, but a sound recording had slipped out of the country.
The Unified Buddhist Church has been banned since 1981 for refusing to submit to communist party supervision.
Do and Thich Huyen Quang, the 86-year-old church patriarch, were accused of possessing state secrets in October 2003.
Vietnam has come in for repeated international criticism for its suppression of religious freedoms and harassment of political dissidents.
A Buddhist monk was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on March 30 after he visited Do, the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau said last week.
Do charged that «state corruption, power abuse», social injustice and forced labour were widespread in Vietnam, while the gap between rich and poor was growing and social problems were rife.
The Vietnamese government’s focus on opening of economic markets – «doi moi» -»has failed disastrously and produced an explosive political and social mixture,» Do said.
The Buddhist leader claimed that the «true concern» of Vietnam’s leaders was to maintain the privileges of «two million Party members over the majority of 80 million people».
«The communist leaders are afraid of democracy because they fear it will make them lose power,» he added, accusing Hanoi of «destroying our nation and our cultural identity».