l For the first time in northern Vietnam, a monk from the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church (VBC) has announced that he is leaving the VBC to join the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). Venerable Thich Man Thien, secular name Nguyen Thanh Phong, told Vo Van Ai, Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau by telephone this week, that he has sent a letter to the UBCV’s Deputy leader Thich Quang Do, requesting to become a member of the UBCV.
Thich Man Thien, 37, was appointed by the VBC in 2000 to become Superior monk at the An Lac Pagoda in Vinh Phong hamlet, Vinh Bao district, in the city of Hai Phong (Certificate No. 0059, 15.1.2000, signed by VBC President Thich Tri Tinh). In May 2006, a Hanoi Buddhist donated 40 million dongs to Thich Man Thien for his Pagoda. The sum of money was subsequently appropriated by the Vinh Phong People’s Committee. When Thich Man Thien and the Buddhist congregation protested this, the authorities reacted with harassments, interrogations and intimidation. Security Police along with People’s Committee officials, religious cadres and agents of PA.38 (Political Security, Ministry of Public Security) came repeatedly to An Lac pagoda, threatening and harassing the congregation. They arrested Thich Man Thien and subjected him to two days of intensive interrogations (25-26 January 2007) and ordered him to leave the Pagoda. The State-sponsored VBC also issued an expulsion order on 10.1.2007. Thich Man Thien refuses to leave. He denounces the VBC for conniving with the communist authorities without even bothering to investigate his case.
Thich Man Thien told Vo Van Ai that Police summoned him for interrogation after he wrote to Thich Quang Do and asked : “Don’t you now that the UBCV is a reactionary organization ?” He replied : “I was born on 15.7.1975 [after the Communist victory, note IBIB], I don’t know what reactionary means. All I know is that the UBCV has integrity, it cares for its members and protects their dignity. The State-run VBC (“Giao hoi Phat giao Quoc doanh” in Vietnamese), on the contrary, simply obeys the Party.” He added : “I am a monk, and my only aim is to live and spread Buddha’s teachings. Even if they kill me, or throw me into prison, I will continue to practice Buddhism”.
Security Police block the entrance to Ba La Mat Pagoda with bricks to prevent Buddhists from entering
(see section on Dong Nai province)
l The International Buddhist Information Bureau has received an urgent appeal from the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) reporting intensified harassment, assaults and intimidation against UBCV clergy and followers in the provinces of Binh Dinh, Thua Thien-Hue, Dong Nai and Bac Lieu. Repression is specifically targeted against members of Representative Boards set up by the UBCV to bring humanitarian and spiritual aid to poor people in the local areas. Since July 2005, the UBCV has set up 20 such boards in the central and southern provinces. Despite their non-violent activities, their members have suffered systematic harassments from Security Police and local authorities.
According to the UBCV, these repression campaigns follow a consistent pattern, demonstrating that religious persecution is a deliberate, State-orchestrated policy, not an isolated phenomenon caused by zealous local officials, as Vietnam claimed in its recent White Paper on “Religion and Policies Regarding Religion in Vietnam”.
l In Binh Dinh province, Security Police have set up surveillance posts around the Nguyen Thieu Monastery where the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang is under house arrest, monitoring all visits. Security Police and local officials systematically refuse the Patriarch requests to travel to Saigon for a medical check-up, and prohibit UBCV Deputy Thich Quang Do and other senior monks from visiting him. Thich Huyen Quang has strongly protested this decision, and demanded the Binh Dinh People’s Committee to publish a list of all UBCV monks who are forbidden to travel. “You prohibit people without any written justification or charge” he said. “In the civilized world, such verbal orders are totally unacceptable and unlawful”.
Members of the Binh Dinh UBCV Provincial Representative Board, founded in August 2005, have been summoned incessantly by Security Police and subjected to all manner of harassments. The situation of the Board’s leader, Venerable Thich Tam Lien is extremely alarming. Security Police surround his residence at the Lac Son Pagoda day and night, barring entry to all Buddhist clergy or lay-followers. No-one is allowed to attend prayers or give offerings to the monk. He is now living in misery and abject poverty, constantly under threat. Security agents recently broke into his Pagoda, destroyed the telephone and terrorized his 100-year-old mother who lives with him.
Superior monk of the famous Thap Thap Monastery in Binh Dinh, Venerable Thich Vien Dinh, who is also Deputy Head of the UBCV’s Executive Institute Vien Hoa Dao and Superior monk of the Giac Hoa Pagoda in Saigon, was intercepted by heavily-armed Security Police as he came to the Monastery to attend a memorial ceremony for his late Master Thich Ke Chau. Security Police blocked the road, and prepared to attack the Monastery, assisted by special forces armed with machine guns and other fire arms. Thich Vien Dinh was taken for questioning, and prohibited to return to his Monastery without a temporary residence permit – an order which is totally absurd, since Thich Vien Dinh has been Superior monk at Thap Thap Monastery for over 10 years. Security Police also issued orders prohibiting future religious gatherings at the Monastery, and threatening local Buddhists : “The monks at Thap Thap Monastery are all reactionaries. Anyone who goes there will be arrested”. They also threatened local Buddhists that they would lose their jobs, or their children would be expelled from school if they did not obey. Ironically, when Thich Vien Dinh returned to Saigon after this incident, he received another Police summons, this time from Saigon’s 7th Ward Security Police, accusing him of “leaving [Saigon] without permission from the local authorities”.
l In Thua Thien-Hue, the An Cuu People’s Committee (local communist authorities) banned Venerable Thich Chi Thang, member of the UBCV Representative Board in Thua Thien-Hue from organizing a ceremony at Phuoc Thanh Pagoda to promote Buddhist Youth leader Le Cong Cau as the UBCV’s Head of Buddhist Youth Movement affairs. The authorities ordered the UBCV to “cease illegal activities”, stating that they “did not recognize the UBCV Thua Thien-Hue Representative Board”. Le Cong Cau was also subjected to harassments and threats, and pressured to renounce his position. From late January through February, he was obliged to undergo interrogations twice a day with Security Police. The authorities are continuing campaigns to divide and undermine the Buddhist Youth Movement (Gia dinh Phat tu), a nationwide education movement linked to the UBCV which has over 300,000 members in Vietnam.
Venerable Thich Thien Hanh, Head of the Thua Thien-Hue UBCV Representative Board sent a letter to the local authorities strongly protesting these abuses against the UBCV. “The “Ordinance on Belief and Religion” and the government Decree on its implementation only apply to religious bodies created and sanctioned by the State, they offer no protection to non-recognized religions such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. The mission of all religions, notably Buddhism, is to succour those who suffer and serve humankind. We do not serve any political powers, nor are linked to any political party. That is why the UBCV continues to be oppressed… The UBCV has committed no illegal activities. Who are really the illegal ones ? I urge the authorities to shine a light on their own activities and let the people see the truth !”
Despite the government ban, over 100 UBCV monks and members of the Buddhist Youth Movement from several localities travelled to Hue for the event. Faced with crowds of Buddhists, the Police finally did not intervene during the ceremony. However, as soon as the monks and Buddhists began to leave, they were systematically intercepted by Security Police. A delegation of monks from Quang Nam -Da Nang was arrested in Quang Tri, where they stopped to visit UBCV colleagues. The Head of the local Dong Ha district Security forces took out his gun and threatened to shoot Thich Tu Giao, Head of the Quang Tri UBCV Representative Board. The delegation was arrested a second time on its way back to Quang Nam. Police confiscated all their films and photos of the ceremony in Hue.
Venerable Thich Nhat Ban, Ba La Mat Pagoda, Dong Nai province (12.2.2007)
l In Dong Nai province, Venerable Thich Thien Tam, secular name Nguyen Van Si, was released from prison three months ago after being detained for his religious beliefs. Since he had no home nor residence permit, he stayed at the Ba La Mat Pagoda with UBCV monk Thich Nhat Ban, Head of the Dong Nai Province UBCV Representative Board. Local Security Police immediately ordered his expulsion within 24 hours. On 12 February, 2007, Thich Nhat Ban, who was imprisoned in 1994 with Thich Quang Do for organizing a rescue Mission for Flood Victims, sent an urgent appeal to the local authorities and the international community reporting that he had been brutally assaulted in his Pagoda by gangs of local youths, but the Security Police had ignored his appeals for help. He also said that Security Police had locked the gates of the Ba La Mat Pagoda, forbidding Buddhists from entering, and plied rocks across the entrance to the Ba La Mat Pagoda to frighten away the local people (see photos taken on February 12, 2007).
l In Bac Lieu, Venerable Thich Thien Minh, Head of the UBCV’s Youth Department, released in a government amnesty in February 2005 after 26 years in prison, was also subjected to harassments after he attended the Ceremony to promote Buddhist Youth leader Le Cong Cau in Hue, and continues to suffer to harassments because of his outspoken support of the outlawed UBCV. Because the authorities refused to give Thich Thien Minh back his pagoda, confiscated on his arrest in 1979, he has lived with his brother and family in Bac Lieu since his release. In order to live a proper monastic life, Thich Thien Minh had a small retreat built in the garden of his brother’s house. Recently, when he went to renew his temporary residence permit at the local Police station, Thich Thien Minh was confronted with dozens of people, representatives of the Security Police, religious officials, members of the PA.38 (political security police) and local communist cadres for a “denunciation session”. Police read out an accusation of all his “illegal activities”, such as : “stubbornly adhering to the outlawed UBCV, despite the State’s policies of religious tolerance” ; repeatedly leaving the district without permission ; entertaining contacts with reactionary overseas organisations, conniving with extremely reactionary personalities such as Vo Van Ai, overseas spokesman of the UBCV, in support of an illegal organization named the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam lead by Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do”.