Hanoi, October 10 (dpa) – Police have arrested the elderly leaders of a banned Buddhist group in Vietnam, local police said Friday.
Thich Huyen Quang, 86, and Thich Quang Do, 75, the leaders of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, were arrested Thursday morning in Luong Son commune, 10 km from the resort town of Nha Trang, a local police officer said.
“Traffic police stopped them at 8.30 Thursday morning and they were uncooperative and showed signs of resistance,” said the police officer, who declined to be named.
Thich Huyen Quang, and Nobel peace prize nominee Thich Quang Do, 75, were still in police custody Friday lunchtime, but the police officer said he did not know the charge against the two men.
“This report, if confirmed, is only the last of a chain of events which calls into doubt Vietnam’s professed commitment to safeguard religious freedom and will certainly cause many question to be raised in Europe,” a European Union diplomat said Friday.
The two leaders had been the centre of a 10-hour standoff Wednesday between 1,200 Buddhist supporters and security services at a monastery in Binh Dinh province, according to the UBCV information service, the International Buddhist Information Bureau.
The IBIB claimed that security services had stopped the vehicle containing the two leaders at 5.00 am Wednesday as they were trying to travel 650 km south to Ho Chi Minh City.
Windows of the minivan were smashed and the tyres let down, and the two leaders went on hunger strike to protest at the authorities refusal to let them travel, the IBIB claimed.
On Thursday, Le Dung, Vietnam’s spokesman for foreign affairs categorically denied all of IBIB’s allegations, saying that the leaders had been prevented from leaving Nguyen Thieu monastery by loyal followers, and not security services.
Vietnam’s foreign affairs spokesman said the allegations made by the IBIB were “ill-willed, sheer fabrications,” a charge strongly rejected by Vo Van Ai, the director of the IBIB.
“If it was really the people who tried to prevent Ven. Thich Huyen Quang to leave the province of Binh Dinh, police could easily disperse the crowd,” Ai told Deuetsche Presse Agentur (dpa). “Instead, they kept the UBCV leader in a car in the hot sun for 10 hours Buddhist followers would never do anything to make their leader suffer in that way.”
Le Dung was asked by reporters if he knew the whereabouts of the Thich Huyen Quang and his deputy Thich Quang Do Thursday afternoon.
“I am now in Hanoi so I am not aware where they are, but I will check that and inform you,” the foreign affairs spokesman told journalists and diplomats.
Thich Huyen Quang, and Thich Quang Do, have spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest after the UBVC was banned in 1981.