PARIS, August 18, 2005 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) has received an urgent communication from Vietnam concerning a new wave of repression against the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). The repression is targeted against members of Provincial Committees recently founded by the UBCV. Over the past two months, the UBCV has set up three Provincial Committees, in Quang Nam-Danang (on 8.7.2005, with an Executive Board composed of 15 senior UBCV monks and lay-followers), in Thua Thien-Hue (on 18.7.2005, with an Executive Board of 32 prominent UBCV monks), and in Binh Dinh province, where the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang is under house arrest (on 9.8.2005 with an Executive Board of 18 prominent UBCV monks).
For the very first time since 1981, when the UBCV was outlawed by the government and supplanted by the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church (VBC), Venerable Thich Quang Do, deputy UBCV leader and head of the UBCV’s Executive Institute (Vien Hoa Dao) has sent letters to the People’s Committees (Communist Party authorities) in all three provinces informing them of the creation of these new UBCV Provincial Committees. The public announcement of their creation, in spite of the government ban, is a way of affirming the effective right to existence and religious freedom of the banned UBCV. In a statement to I.B.I.B., Thich Quang Do said that these UBCV committees represented “components of a vibrant and dynamic civil society which is currently emerging in Vietnam”.
According to UBCV sources in Binh Dinh, over the past three days (15-17th August 2005), Security Police have intercepted and harassed all the members of the newly elected UBCV Provincial Committee and subjected them to intensive interrogations. The Committee’s Chairman, Venerable Thich Tam Lien, 70, was interrogated by Police for two days on 16-17th August. After he was released and returned to the Lac Son Pagoda in Bong Son, Binh Dinh, Thich Tam Lien fell unconscious and had to be rushed to hospital for emergency treatment. He had previously told UBCV followers that Security Police refused him all food during his interrogations, only giving him tea to drink. UBCV Buddhists, who state that Thich Tam Lien was in excellent health before his interrogation, are extremely concerned by this grave deterioration of his health. They fear that it is due either to intense psychological pressure, or that Police may have poisoned his tea. They recall the similar deaths of UBCV leaders such as Thich Tri Thu, who died after Police interrogations during a crackdown on UBCV monks at the Gia Lam Pagoda in Go Vap, Saigon in 1984, and Thich Thanh Tri from Hue, who died in similar circumstances after attending Thich Tri Thu’s funeral in Saigon.
During the interrogations in Binh Dinh, Police accused the UBCV of “engaging in political activities”, of “plotting to overthrow the government” and “advocating democracy and pluralism”. They ordered the monks to withdraw their names from the Committee and cease all connections with the UBCV.
Over the past three days, Security Police have stepped up controls on UBCV monks and followers all over Vietnam. All communications with UBCV Deputy leader Thich Quang Do, currently under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon, are completely cut. Jamming devices have been set up to block all cell phone communications, and Security Police keep round-the-clock surveillance outside the building. Venerable Thich Vien Dinh, Superior monk of the Giac Hoa Pagoda and deputy head of the UBCV Executive Institute Vien Hoa Dao, and Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, head of the UBCV Commission for Social and Humanitarian Affairs have both been summoned to appear before their local People’s Committees in Saigon today, 18th August 2005. (Despite continuous government pressure, Thich Vien Dinh persists in maintaining the inscription “Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam” over the Giac Hoa Pagoda in Saigon). Moreover, following reports that UBCV monks in the provinces of Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa have also filed requests to the UBCV leadership to set up provincial UBCV committees in their provinces, Security Police have conducted widespread interrogations and harassed Buddhist in order to prevent the creation of UBCV Committees in these two provinces.
This new wave of repression against the UBCV comes at a time when Vietnam is blacklisted as a “country of particular concern” by the United States for its egregious abuses of religious freedom. In May 2005, the U.S. State Department signed an agreement with Vietnam, subsequently endorsed by President George W. Bush at his meeting with Vietnamese Premier Phan Van Khai in June 2005 in Washington D.C., in which Vietnam pledged to make concrete progress on religious freedom.
“This new crack-down on the UBCV shows that Vietnam continues to blatantly violate its pledges to the international community” said IBIB Director Vo Van Ai. “The UBCV simply demands the right to practice its religion in peace and contribute to the welfare and happiness of the Vietnamese people. Vietnam should allow the UBCV Provincial Committees full freedom of religious activity, in conformity with its own laws and with international human rights standards”.