Ambassador Robert Gordon, the British Ambassador to Vietnam and Ambassador David Milliot, Head of the EU Delegation to Vietnam, travelled from Hanoi to visit Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery on Friday 30th September. This the first time the two Ambassadors have met Thich Quang Do, who has been under effective house arrest since a government clamp-down on the UBCV in October 2003. The UK currently holds the presidency of the European Union.
In a phone conversation today with IBIB Director Vo Van Ai, Venerable Thich Quang Do said that the meeting was extremely positive and friendly, and lasted from 11.30 am until 1.00 pm. The Ambassadors informed Thich Quang Do that they had heard the testimonies by Vo Van Ai and former UBCV monk Thich Tri Luc at the European Parliament’s Hearing on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam on 12th September, and had come to hear his viewpoint on human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam.
Thich Quang Do told the Ambassadors of continuous repression suffered by UBCV members since 1975, and the UBCV’s 30 years of nonviolent resistance, beginning with the immolation of 12 UBCV monks and nuns at the Duoc Su Pagoda in Can Tho on 2nd November 1975. Over 20 UBCV Buddhists had self-immolated since 1975 to appeal for human rights and religious freedom, and UBCV members continued to suffer imprisonment, house arrest and harassment because of their peaceful beliefs. He told the two Ambassadors that both he and the UBCV Patriarch were deprived of their freedom of movement and other basic rights without any justification or charge, despite Vietnam’s claims that they were “completely free”. Security Police had systematically intercepted him when he tried to visit Thich Huyen Quang in Binh Dinh province. Similarly, Thich Huyen Quang had repeatedly asked to visit Thich Quang Do in Saigon, but the local authorities refused because they had “not received authorization from above”.
Thich Quang Do observed that human rights were enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution and reiterated in the “White Paper on Human Rights” released by Hanoi in August 2005, but they were not respected in practice. “Freedom in Vietnam is like a painting of a cake (banh ve in Vietnamese) : it looks wonderful on paper – but you can’t eat it !” The Vietnamese people, he said, were hungry for true democracy and human rights. Economic liberalization (doi moi) without the safeguards of a free press and independent civil society had created grave social problems such as abuses of workers rights, trafficking of women etc. They could not be solved unless a true process of political liberalization was initiated in Vietnam.
In conclusion, Thich Quang Do launched an appeal the UK and EU Ambassadors : “The EU is one of Vietnam’s major aid donors and trade partners. I urge the EU to implement Article 1 of the 1995 bilateral Cooperation Agreement which conditions EU-Vietnam relations on the respect of democratic principles and human rights. It is vital that the EU supports a peaceful process of democratization in Vietnam. Democracy is the key to solving the vast problems that have beset our nation over the past 30 years. Democracy is the key to sustainable development in Vietnam, and to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region”.
l Regarding Hanoi’s “White Paper on Human Rights”, an official from the the Vietnamese Embassy asked to distribute the “White Paper” at the EP Hearing in Brussels on 12th September. However, the Chairman of the EP Sub-commission on Human Rights, Ms Helene Flautre, flatly rejected this request because of Chapter IV of the document, which she qualified as a “systematic denigration of human rights defenders which is inadmissible within the European Parliament”. Prior to the Hearing, the Ambassadors of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia had met with Ms Flautre to protest against the event, and Ms Ton Nu Thi Ninh, Vice-President of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission wrote to EP to advise against the Hearing. Chapter IV of the White paper accused UBCV International spokesman Vo Van Ai of “hiding behind the mask of democracy and human rights” to protect “law violators” and “taking advantage of his position as Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) to oppose Vietnam at the UN Commission on Human Rights”.
l On Tuesday 3rd October, UBCV monk Thich Vien Phuong was summoned to the People’s Committee Inspection Bureau in Phu Nhuan Ward, Saigon, regarding an order he had received to pay a fine of 15 million dongs (approx. US$ 1,000) for filming a message addressed by Thich Quang Do to the UN Commission on Human Rights in April 2005. The “Decision” issued by the Phu Nhuan People’s Committee (Ref. 697/QD-XPHC, 15.9.2005) accused Thich Vien Phuong (secular name Nguyen Thanh Tho) of “activities of producing films or video-tapes with contents that slander and infringe upon the prestige of organizations, the honour or dignity of individuals, but which are not serious enough to be punished under criminal law…”. On 30th March 2005, Security Police had arrested Thich Vien Phuong as he left Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, confiscating his video camera and footage of Thich Quang Do’s message. The young monk was subjected to intensive Police interrogations for several days. Fortunately, UBCV Buddhists succeeded in sending IBIB an audio version of the message, which was made public at the UN Human Rights Commission on 4th April 2005.
In his complaint, Thich Vien Phuong strongly protested against this exorbitant fine — over 43 times the basic wage of a Vietnamese worker — stating that he was simply exercising his constitutional rights : “Article 69 of the Vietnamese Constitution guarantees that “all citizens shall enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, the right to be informed “ … “and Chapter II of the “White Paper on Human Rights” states that “Vietnam fully respects and ensures the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the rights to information of all citizens”.
“I reject the “Decision” to pay this fine because it distorts the truth and turns me into a criminal. I am respectful of the law, I have committed no offence. I therefore demand the competent authorities to re-examine my case immediately, withdraw this spurious order, and restore my dignity and honour”.
The International Information Bureau strongly condemns the Phu Nhuan People’s Committee’s unlawful decision against Thich Vien Phuong. It is grossly inconsistent with Article 19 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right to “seek, receive or impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers… through any media of [one’s] choice” to which Vietnam is a state party. Such abuses violate the binding agreements Vietnam has signed with the European Union, the United States and other key partners to uphold and respect religious freedom and human rights. IBIB calls upon the international community to closely monitor the situation of Thich Vien Phuong.