PARIS, 8 March 2010 (IBIB) – The Patriarch of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) Thich Quang Do has written to three prominent women, U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Rafto Foundation Director Therese Jebsen (Norway) and French lawyer Nathalie Muller-Sarallier, calling on them to join together in an international initiative for human rights and democracy in Vietnam. The letters were sent from Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon, where the 81-year old Buddhist dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace prize nominee is under effective house arrest, and forwarded to the three women by the International Buddhist Information Bureau in Paris.
Writing at a time when “women around the world prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day”, Thich Quang Do paid tribute to all “the courageous women who, throughout 2,000 years of Vietnamese history, have inspired our nation’s struggle for independence and stood up against tyranny despite impossible odds. Women such as the two Trưng sisters in 40AC, who lead armies into battle to free our nation from Chinese rule”. He sent special thoughts to “the young women in Vietnam imprisoned in recent unfair trials simply for speaking out for human rights and democracy” and all those “subjected to trafficking, discrimination and daily violations of their basic political, economic and social rights”.
“Amongst the remarkable women who inspire our struggle”, he wrote, “some are not from Vietnam”. He highlighted three women, Loretta Sanchez, Therese Jebsen and Ms. Muller-Sarallier, who had all suffered obstructions during visits to Vietnam. “You are three women from different countries and different backgrounds, yet you share common concerns and experiences. You all came to Vietnam to be of help, yet your efforts were rewarded with harassments, restrictions or interrogations”.
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez visited Thich Quang Do at Thanh Minh Zen Monastery during her trip to Vietnam with President Bill Clinton in 2000, then returned to meet other dissidents on several occasions. “For this simple gesture of solidarity, Hanoi placed you on its blacklist and refused you a visa in 2004, even though you came on a Congressional mandate. The government said you were “no longer welcome in Vietnam”.
Therese Jebsen, Executive Director of the Norwegian Rafto Foundation, was arrested when she came to Vietnam to hand Thich Quang Do the Rafto Prize Diploma in March 2007. Thich Quang Do was awarded the prestigious Rafto Prize in November 2006, but Vietnam refused to let him travel to Norway to receive it in person. “I will never forget how the Security Police arrested you in the very courtyard of my Monastery. I have never begged the Communists for anything in my life, but that day I begged them to let you stay and talk to me, if only for a few minutes. They refused, and subjected you to Police interrogations”.
French lawyer Nathalie Muller-Sarallier, member of the Paris Bar, went to Vietnam in 2010 at the request of the families of detained lawyers Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Cong Nhan and Le Cong Dinh in order to meet them and especially to assist Le Cong Dinh and his colleagues in preparation for their trial in January 2010. Although Thich Quang Do had never met Ms. Muller-Sallier in person, he heard her account of the visit on a broadcast on Radio Free Asia. He wrote: “You were denied access to the prisoners, the Saigon Bar Association and all those legally involved in this process. I was especially moved when you said that in all the countries you have worked as a human rights lawyer, you have never experienced such a closed and repressive climate as in Vietnam”.
“What you saw during these brief visits gives you a glimpse of what we Vietnamese have suffered since 1955 in the North and since 1975 in the South”, Thich Quang Do wrote. “If Hanoi dares to treat international personalities in this way, you can imagine the repression and injustice they have inflicted on 86 million Vietnamese over the past 55 years”. He added: “I speak from experience – for the past 29 years I have been detained in prison, exile and house arrest simply for urging the government to respect its citizens’ rights”.
Thich Quang Do concluded by calling on the three women to “make a special gesture for freedom in Vietnam. May I propose that together you take the initiative of organizing an international conference, a kind of “Etats Generaux”, to review the human rights situation in Vietnam and seek international solutions for progress and reform. By joining hands across continents, from the United States, Norway, France, you will be taking an unprecedented step. It would be a most fitting way to celebrate International Women’s Day” and “open a pathway of hope for human rights and justice for the women and people of Vietnam”.
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