PARIS, 19 November 2006 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) has received urgent information from Venerable Thich Vien Dinh, Vice-President and Secretary General of “Vien Hoa Dao”, the Executive Institute of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and Superior monk of the Giac Hoa Pagoda, one of the UBCV’s main Pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where over 50 young Buddhist monks and novices reside. Thich Vien Dinh told IBIB that he was summoned by Lieutenant-Colonel Pham Minh Tuan, Head of Security Police in Ho Chi Minh City’s 7th Ward, to come for a “working session” (i.e. interrogation) at the Police Station today, Sunday 19th November 2006. The session began at 3.00pm and lasted two hours.
Thich Vien Dinh told IBIB Director Vo Van Ai that the Security official strictly prohibited him and other UBCV monks at Giac Hoa Pagoda from speaking to representatives of the foreign media or diplomats in Vietnam for the APEC Summit through the 19th, 20th and 21st November. Any monks violating this order would be strictly punished, said Lt.-Colonel Tuan. He also ordered the immediate expulsion of two UBCV monks from Giac Hoa Pagoda : Thich Thien Minh and Thich Chon Tam.
Thich Thien Minh and Thich Chon Tam both came to Giac Hoa Pagoda after suffering ceaseless Police harassments and repression. Thich Thien Minh, who was released in a government amnesty in February 2005 after 26 years in prison for supporting the banned UBCV, has not been issued with an identity card or the obligatory “ho khau” (residence permit) since his release, and thus remains an illegal citizen, deprived of all citizenship rights. The authorities refuse to return the Vinh Binh Pagoda in the southern province of Bac Lieu, which they confiscated on his arrest in 1979, and oblige him to live with his brother and family. Thich Thien Minh has repeatedly demanded the right to build himself a small cell where he can properly live a monastic life, but the authorities systematically refuse.
Thich Chon Tam, Superior monk at the Tay Hue Pagoda in the city of Chau Doc in An Giang province, has suffered repeated harassments since he founded a UBCV Representative board in his province. On 3rd October 2006, he was forcibly expelled from Tay Hue Pagoda and replaced by a monk from the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church (VBC). Homeless, he came to Giac Hoa Pagoda to seek refuge. Thich Chon Tam and Thich Thien Minh both informed the Police that they were staying there, and applied for temporary residence permits.
l Buddhist nun Thich Nu Dam Thoa was arrested in Hanoi on 14th November and is currently detained in a “Camp for social elements” in Bac Giang, Northern Vietnam. She is accused of being on a list of people allegedly seeking to meet US President George W. Bush during the APEC Summit.
Thich Nu Dam Thoa, 35, secular name Ly Thi Ha, a member of the State-sponsored VBC, was expelled from the Tan Lieu Pagoda in Yen Dung district, Bac Giang province after the authorities confiscated the Pagoda without any compensation two years ago. She then joined the thousands of “Victims of Injustice”
In her letter, Thich Nu Dam Thoa described the misery of the “Victims of Injustice”, homeless farmers and peasants who gather in Mai Xuan Thoung Park in Hanoi each day : “Because I had confidence in the laws and justice of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, I came to Hanoi 2 years ago to claim my rights. Just like me, the “Victims of Injustice” are all very poor. We have no money, no possessions at all. Every day, year after year, we gather outside the headquarters of the Communist Party, the Government and the National Assembly to plead for help. Our leaders say : “the Communist State is a million times more democratic than Capitalist countries”. But in reality, they deceive their own citizens and the international community too. According to their laws, our grievances should be settled within 30-45 days. But for months, even years, they never even bother to read our complaints…”
Mr. Vo Van Ai, Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau strongly condemned the hypocrisy of the Vietnamese Communist regime, which parades its economic prowess at the APEC Summit whilst silencing its own citizens’ voices. “If Vietnam’s development is such a success”, he asked, “why are the authorities afraid to let the people speak to the foreign media or diplomats ?”
“Prosperity cannot grow on the wasteland of persecution”, said Vo Van Ai. “The religious forces, especially the UBCV, Vietnam’s largest civil society movement, have immense potential to contribute to Vietnam’s economic development. By repressing Buddhism, Vietnam is destroying this potential, and jeopardizing sustainable development for generations to come. I sincerely hope that President George W. Bush and all the other world leaders attending the APEC Summit are informed of the repressive policies implemented by Hanoi during their visit, and that they publicly denounce them before leaving Vietnam”.