Institute for the Dissemination of the Dharma
90 Tran Huy Lieu, District 15, Phu Nhuan Ward, Saigon, Vietnam
|Buddhist Era 2554||
Ref. 10 /VHĐ/VT
On behalf of the Bicameral Institutes of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), I am writing to vigorously protest the banning of Vesak celebrations at the Giac Minh Pagoda, under Superior monk Most Venerable Thich Thanh Quang, by the authorities, Security Police and Fatherland Front in the province of Quang Nam-Da Nang.
I need not remind you that Buddhism has been in Vietnam for the past 21 centuries, and that the Vesak, or Birth of Buddha, is a major national festival in Vietnam, because the majority of our population is Buddhist. Even when our country was under colonial rule, the French, who were by no means Buddhist, never banned celebrations of the Vesak Festival in Vietnam.
Moreover, in 1999, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the Vesak as sacred festival for Buddhists around the world, and since then, the UN Day of the Vesak has been internationally observed.
Despite this, on Vesak day this year, the Full-moon day of the lunar calendars fourth month (28th May 2010) Vietnam prohibited Giac Minh Pagoda from observing the Vesak, thus violating Vietnams own traditions and the decision of the United Nations, of which it is a member state.
Giac Minh Pagoda, at K356/42 Hoang Dieu Street in the city of Da-Nang, is the head office of the UBCVs Quang Nam-Da Nang Representative Committee and also Secretariat of the UBCVs Youth Commission and Buddhist Youth Movement Commission (Gia Đình Phật Tử Việt Nam).
On Vesak Day, hundreds of officers from the local authorities, Security Police, the Fatherland Front and auxiliary police surrounded the Pagoda, preventing Buddhists from entering to attend the Vesak celebrations. They pushed and assaulted members of the Buddhist Youth movement travelling from neighbouring districts, hurled insults at them and stopped them outside the pagoda.
On 15th May 2010, Most Venerable Thich Thanh Quang, Head of the UBCVs Representative Board in Quang Nam-Da Nang, had received a summons from Mr. Nguyen Phu Dung, Chairman of the Binh Hien District Peoples Committee to report to his office for “working sessions concerning Vesak Day”. The summons was not addressed to him by his religious title, but by his secular name, Pham Van Phai. This is not only uncivilized and vulgar, but it is also extremely contemptuous in regard to a senior Buddhist monk.
On the evening of 27th May, Security Police and auxiliaries broke into Giac Minh Pagoda on the pretext of controlling registration permits. They were violent and rude. On 28th May, Vesak Day, from early morning onwards, hundreds of local officials, Security Police and auxiliaries blocked all access to the building. Police blocks were set up on all roads leading to the pagoda. Not one person was allowed entry. Those who tried were brutally intercepted and pushed back by Police, who shouted threats and insults at them.
A number of vans transporting members of the Buddhist Youth Movement from Dai Loc and Nui Thanh districts were intercepted in Hoang Dieu Street. When two youth leaders, Doan Thanh Thong and Ho Du tried to ask the reason for this blockade, they were jostled, shoved and threatened by local thugs. Fearing further violence, they told the children to get out of the vans and sit on the pavement until Police controlled the situation. However, crowds of local officials and hired men then pushed the children off the pavement and into the road, where they were again reprimanded by Police.
At 9 pm, although no Buddhists were allowed to enter the Pagoda, Most Venerable Thich Thanh Quang decided to carry on the Vesak ceremony as planned, along with the resident monks. As the chimes of the bell and drums rang out, crowds of Buddhists standing in the streets joined their hands in prayer and bowed in direction of the Pagoda. Some nuns tried to bring food and drink out to the children, but Police intercepted them, confiscated the food and prohibited the nuns from going back inside.
Several other UBCV Pagodas in Da Nang suffered similar repression during Vesak. Buddhists were harassed, threatened, interrogated and banned from attending Vesak prayers. This was the case in An Cu Pagoda in Son Tra Ward, whose Superior monk is Venerable Thich Thien Phuc.
In Thua Thien-Hue, the Hoa Da Tay Buddhist Group and Youth Movement section in Phu Da village were harassed by Police and local officials on Vesak Day. The Police confiscated calendars printed with the UBCV logo that were hanging in their office. Although they drew up a police report on the confiscation, they refused to give Buddhists a copy of the report as required by law.
On 2nd June 2010, officials and Police subjected UBCV Buddhists to similar harassments at the Ha Uc Meditation Centre in Vinh Thanh village and the An Bang Meditation Centre in Vinh An village, and obliged them to hand all UBCV calendars to the Police.
I have heard your governments frequent claims to the international community that “the state respects religious freedom”. However, my own situation proves quite the opposite. To this very day, I remain under strict under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, deprived of freedom of movement. I am not allowed to receive Buddhists, nor preach to them or conduct any religious activities, even though I am living in a Monastery!
On 16 March 2010, Mr. Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Foundation in New York, USA, came to visit me. A group of Security Police seized him as he left my Monastery, beat him on the head and back and bruised him badly. They took him to the Police station and questioned him for several hours, simply for the “crime” of visiting me and entering a “pagoda that is not recognized by the state”. Is this what you call freedom of religion?
Twenty UBCV Provincial Representative Committees in the southern and central provinces are subjected to ceaseless restrictions, harassments and threats. All their activities are banned, even though they are simply engaged in humanitarian, educational or social work for the poor people in these areas.
I strongly denounce these violations of religious freedom, especially the suppression of Vesak celebrations described above.
If the government deems that these acts did not stem from central government orders, I urge the Communist Party and the government to swiftly sanction all local officials and Security Police officers in Da Nang, Hue and elsewhere, who bear responsibility for these acts.
I urge the Communist Party and the government to cease the practice of detaining UBCV monks and nuns under house arrest without charge, including myself. If the government believes I have committed a crime, they should bring me before a court of law, and give me the right to a fair trial, with defence counsel of my own choice, and in presence of international diplomats and the media.
I also urge the Communist Party and State to re-establish the legal status of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and restore our full rights to freedom of religious activity, and thus put an end to this intolerable cycle of repression, harassment and intimidation against UBCV representatives in the southern and central provinces of Vietnam.
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