on the Forthcoming EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue
Hanoi, November 26th 2003
H.E. Luigi Solari, Italian Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam H.H. Dan Mulhall, Irish Embassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam H.E. the Greek Ambassador to the Soclialist Republic of Vietnam
Paris, 23rd November 2003
As international spokesman of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and Director of its information service, the International Buddhist Information Bureau, I am writing to express my deep concern about the ongoing repression of UBCV clergy and followers in brutal crackdown launched by the authorities on October 8th 2003.
This new wave of repression was launched by Security Policemafter 60 senior UBCV monks held a peaceful assembly in Binh Dinh province to appoint a new UBCV leadership which had been vacant since 1981, when the UBCV was effectively banned by the authorities and supplanted by the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church.
Since then, Security Police have placed hundreds of UBCV Pagodas and Monasteries under round-the-clock surveillance, cut off telephone lines and jammed or seized mobile phones. UBCV clergy and followers have been systematically summoned for interrogation and subjected to harassments and intimidation by the local Communist authorities and Security Police. They have all been threatened with reprisals if they do not imm3diately renounce their new functions and cut off all contacts with the UBCV.
Eleven senior UBCV dignitaries, all members of the new UBCV leadership, have been sentenced to “administrative detention”, either formally or by “verbal” order, including the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 86, and his Deputy Venerable Thich Quang Do, 75, a 2003 Peace Prize nominee. Both these monks are currently detained under total isolation, respectively at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh and the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. Although they have not been formally charged, they are accused of “carrying state secrets”, an offence which carries the death penalty in Vietnam.
This brutal wave of repression, which is aimed at totally suppressing the outlawed UBCV, has recently taken a tragic turn. After being subjected to a tense 10-hour stand-off with Security Police, staging a hunger strike inside a minivan under the hot sun with other UBCV leaders on October 8th, and underging long hours of intensive Police interrogations, Venerable Thich Quang Do is now critically ill. Venerable Thich Quang Do suffers from a heart condition, high blood pressure and diabetes, yet he is deprived of basic medical treatment. His health has gravely deteriorated as a result of repressive treatment, and he is now too weak to take solid food or even to drink milk.
Last week, the European Parliament unaminously expressed its concern about the crackdown on the UBCV in an unprecedently strong “Resolution on Religious Freedom in Vietnam”. The Vietnamese authorties reacted to this Resolution by accusing MEPs of using ”slanderous, fabricated and distortional information” and repeating their usual refrain whereby “no one is arrested and detained on religious grounds, only those who violate the law are dealt with according to the law”.
On Wednesday, you will meet with senior Vietnamese officials for the EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue. May I remind you that the 1995 EU-Vietnam Cooperation Agreement is based on the respect of democratic principles and human rights. Yet despite this, seven years after this Agreement was signed, no human rights progress has been made. On the contrary, Vietnam has intensified repression against peaceful dissidents, escalated religious persecution and stepped up the criminalization of dissent by adopting laws that grossly violate all international human rights standards and norms (i.e. Decree 31/CP which legalizes detention without trial, vaguely worded “national security” provisions in the Vietnamese Criminal Code etc.. – which have all been roundly condemned by the European Parliament and the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva).
I earnestly appeal to you, as representatives of the European Union, one of Vietnam’s largest aid donors and trade partners, to vigourously implement the human rights clause in the 1995 Eu-Vietnam Cooperation Agreement and press Vietnam to ;
a) immediately cease repression against the UBCV and all other non-recognized religious bodies; release all prisoners detained for the peaceful exercise of their religious beliefs, beginning with UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy, Venerable Thich Quang Do ;
b) re-establish the legitimate status of the outlawed UBCV, guarantee its full freedom of religious activities and restore all UBCV property confiscated since 1975 ;
c) rescind all legislation incompatible with the freedoms enshrined in the UN Internation Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Please accept, Your Excellencies, the assurance of my highest consideration,
Vo Van Ai
International Buddhist Information Bureau International Spokesman of the UBCV