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IBIB rejects the statement by Religious Board Chair Ngo Yen Thi on the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam

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PARIS, April 25, 2006 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) strongly denounces the statement made by Ngo Yen Thi, Chairman of Vietnam’s Religious Board at a Press Conference in Hanoi on Monday 24th April. Asked by a reporter whether Vietnam was prepared to re-establish the legal status of the outlawed UBCV, Ngo Yen Thi said this was unlikely because the UBCV had become part of the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church in 1981, and that the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy Thich Quang Do had been appointed by an “overseas organization” and must “apply for permission” if they wished to practice their religious activities in Vietnam.

“Ngo Yen Thi’s statement proves that Vietnam’s repressive religious policies have not changed. It is not “old wine in a new bottle” –but “old wine in the same old bottle”, said IBIB Director and UBCV international spokesman Vo Van Ai. “Vietnam claims to respect religious freedom simply to gain WTO membership and be removed from the State Department’s blacklist of “countries of particular concern”. But it obviously has no intention of legalizing the UBCV nor promoting religious freedom in Vietnam”.

IBIB strongly rejects Ngo Yen Thi’s statement on the following points :

– The UBCV never joined the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church in 1981, for it considers the VBC as a mere tool of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). The UBCV has always sought the unification of Buddhist schools from all over Vietnam, but the Communist Party made it clear from the very beginning that its “unification“ policy was a ploy to place Buddhism under CPV control. In 1976, Vietnamese Minister of Culture Nguyen Van Hieu told the UBCV’s former Patriarch Thich Don Hau : “Buddhist unification is a good thing, but only between revolutionary Buddhists. Unification with reactionary Buddhists is out of the question”.

Indeed, the very architect of Vietnam’s “unification” policy, high-ranking religious official Do Trung Hieu revealed the government’s intentions in an essay circulated underground in 1994, for which he was arrested and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment : “The general plan was to turn Vietnamese Buddhism into a mass organization which had the statute of a mere association. Although it was to comprise a number of monks and nuns, it was not meant to have any followers. In other words, the Vietnam Buddhist Church would be a superstructure without any base. Buddhist monks and nuns would be allowed to make ceremonial offerings to Lord Buddha but they would be denied all contacts with the masses and society… From the outside, it looked as if Buddhist unification was led by religious leaders, but in reality, the hand of the CPV was obvious at every stage of the process. The aim was to make the Vietnam Buddhist Church a puppet organization of the CPV”.

After the CPV and the authorities founded the VBC in November 1981, a small number of UBCV monks adhered to the VBC in an individual capacity, but the UBCV formally refused to join. As Thich Huyen Quang said in a letter to the Government (4.8.1993), “When a meeting was held on 12-13.2.1980 to set up a “Commission for the national unification of Buddhism” [to prepare for the creation of the VBC], Venerables Thich Don Hau, Thich Tri Thu and Thich Minh Chau were invited to participate only in an individual capacity. Thich Don Hau walked out of the meeting, declaring : “If we cannot participate as representatives of the UBCV, we prefer not to participate at all”. This is why the UBCV did not take part in the creation of the Commission for the National Unification of Buddhism”.

Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do were not appointed by an “overseas organisation”. After his death in 1992, former UBCV Patriarch Thich Don Hau left a testament appointing Thich Huyen Quang to succeed him as Patriarch of the UBCV. Because of government repression, the UBCV was unable to hold a Congress to officially proclaim his succession. Finally, following the promises of religious tolerance made by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai in his meeting with Thich Huyen Quang in Hanoi in April 2003, the UBCV convened an Assembly at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh on 1st October 2003 to appoint a new leadership, proclaiming Thich Huyen Quang as the Fourth Supreme Patriarch and Thich Quang Do as Head of the UBCV Institute for the Dissemination of the Dharma, the second highest rank in the UBCV. However, as the UBCV monks left the Assembly, Security Police launched a brutal clamp-down, arresting all the new leadership and placing 11 senior monks under detention, including Venerables Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do.

As a result, the UBCV called upon its overseas sections around the world to organise an Extraordinary UBCV Congress in Melbourne, Australia on 13th October 2003 to formally proclaim the succession of Thich Huyen Quang as 4th Supreme Patriarch and make public the names of over 40 UBCV dignitaries appointed to the UBCV leadership at the UBCV Assembly in Binh Dinh.

The statement by the Government Religious Board’s Chairman Ngo Yen Thi is therefore completely false. The Government is seeking to justify its repressive religious policies and its systematic attempts to suppress the UBCV and all other independent religions in Vietnam.

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