PARIS, 15 June 2010 (IBIB) – The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has sent a letter to the Vietnamese leadership to “vigorously protest” systematic repression against the outlawed UBCV, in particular the recent banning of traditional Vesak celebrations (Birth of Buddha) in the central provinces of Quang Nam-Da Nang and Thua Thien-Hue.
Writing from the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) where the 81-year old UBCV Patriarch and outspoken dissident is under effective house arrest, Thich Quang Do told Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Communist Party Secretary-general Nong Duc Manh and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong that suppression of Vesak celebrations is a “violation of Vietnam’s own traditions and of the decision of the United Nations, of which it is a member state” to recognize Vesak Day as “as sacred festival for Buddhists around the world”.
Security Police block the alley leading to Giac Minh Pagoda in Da Nang to prevent Buddhists from attending Vesak celebrations
“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”, he wrote. “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”.
Thich Quang Do described events at the Giac Minh Pagoda in Quang Nam-Da Nang on Vesak Day, 28th May, when “hundreds of officers from the local authorities, Security Police, the Fatherland Front and auxiliary police surrounded the Pagoda, preventing Buddhists from entering. They pushed and assaulted members of the Buddhist Youth Movement travelling from neighbouring districts, hurled insults at them and stopped them outside the pagoda”. When children and members of the young Buddhist Youth Movement sat down on the pavement to wait for the violence to stop, thugs pushed them off the pavement into the road. Security Police also blocked all roads leading to Giac Minh 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”. The evening before (27.5), Police broke into the Pagoda on the pretext of controlling identity cards. They were violent and rude”, he wrote.
At 9pm, Superior monk Thich Thanh Quang decided to hold the ceremony as planned. The Pagoda was deserted, except for the other resident monks and nuns, but their prayers were heard clearly outside. “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”.
Security Police hold “working session” with Superior monk Thich Thanh Quang in Giac Minh Pagoda on the night before Vesak
Thich Quang Do told the Vietnamese leadership of several other incidents in Quang Nam-Da Nang and Thua Thien-Hue where “Buddhists were harassed, threatened, interrogated and banned from attending Vesak prayers”. In several pagodas and meditation centres in Hue, Police confiscated calendars bearing the UBCV logo and summoned monks for “working sessions” at the Police station. Thich Quang Do also deplored government repression against twenty UBCV Provincial Representative Committees in the southern and central provinces “which 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”.
Security Police film “secretly” through the windows of Giac Minh Pagoda throughout the whole of Vesak Day
Commenting on his own prolonged detention, the UBCV Patriarch said: “I have heard your government’s 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 even preach to them or conduct any religious activities, although I am living in a Monastery!” He recalled that Security Police detained and assaulted film producer and human rights defender Thor Halvorssen on 16th March 2010, “beat him on the head and back, and bruised him badly” 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?”
In conclusion, Thich Quang Do urged the Vietnamese leadership:
“If the government deems that these acts did not stem from central government orders, I call upon 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 government 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 represen-tatives in the southern and central provinces of Vietnam”