Overseas congregations of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) in Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand have launched a pressing appeal to the Vietnamese authorities to release detained UBCV leaders Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, re-establish the legitimacy of the banned UBCV, and adopt a comprehensive policy to guarantee religious freedom in Vietnam.
In a “Declaration” released on 29.5.2003, Overseas UBCV leaders said the government had implemented “short-sighted strategies” aimed at transforming religious communities into tools of the Communist Party. Currently, religious affairs are nor regulated by a Religious Law, but a whole series of Decrees, Directives and Decisions which restrict religious activities. “We call on the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to transform these “short-sighted strategies” into a global policy to promote social justice and respect freedom of conscience and belief for all religious denominations, including the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam”. This policy, they stressed, should guarantee religious followers full enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and ratified by Vietnam.
Concerning the banned UBCV, the “Declaration” urged the Vietnamese government to :
1) re-establish the legitimate right to existence of the UBCV, an independent body which is heir to a 2,000-year tradition of Vietnamese Buddhism, and thus existed long before the Communist Party took power in Vietnam ;
2) cease harassment of UBCV followers and immediately release all UBCV members detained in prison or under house arrest after 1975, notably the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, Patriarch of the UBCV and Very Venerable Thich Quang Do, Head of the UBCV Institute for the Dissemination of the Faith (Vien Hoa Dao). All released prisoners should be guaranteed their full freedom and rights as guaranteed by the ICCPR ;
3) as a first step, return to the UBCV the “Vietnam Quoc Tu Pagoda” in Saigon, confiscated by the authorities after 1975 so that the UBCV may set up its headquarters.
The “Declaration” thanked “all international human rights organizations, the governments of the United States, the European Union and member states, the international media and public opinion for their concern and tireless support for the legitimate efforts of the UBCV” and urged them to continue to press Vietnam to respect religious freedom and human rights. It stressed the wholehearted support of all overseas UBCV Buddhists “for the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang’s determined efforts to convey the aspirations and grave concerns of the whole Buddhist community, at home and abroad, to the highest levels of the government during his trip to Hanoi for medical treatment”, and for UBCV Deputy Thich Quang Do “in his ceaseless efforts for the reestablishment of the right to existence of the UBCV”. The “Declaration” called on Vietnamese Buddhists around the world to actively support the banned UBCV in its movement to realize its three demands.
The Overseas UBCV Congregations of Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand represent Buddhist followers in the 3 million-strong Vietnamese diaspora. They have over 500 UBCV Pagodas and Buddhist cultural centres all over the world.
The Declaration is signed by :
– The Very Venerable Thich Ho Giac, Deputy Head of the UBCV Institute for the Dissemination of the Faith (Vien Hoa Dao), President of the Executive Council, Vietnamese American Unified Buddhist Congress in the United States of America ;
– The Very Venerable Thich Nhu Hue, Chairperson, National Executive Council of the Unified Buddhist Congregation of Australia-New Zealand ;
– The Very Venerable Thich Minh Tam, President, Executive Council, Unified Buddhist Congregation of Vietnam in Europe ;
– The Venerable Thich Thien Tam, President, Executive Council, Unified Buddhist Congregation of Vietnam in Canada.