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Police harass and intercept UBCV monks and lay-followers to prevent celebrations of Buddhism’s Memorial Day in Hue

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PARIS, 5.12.2015 (VCHR) – Buddhists in the central city of Hue sent an urgent report to Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) today that Police and security forces are intercepting, harassing and intimidating monks, nuns and lay-followers of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) to prevent them from organizing Memorial Day commemoration at the Long Quang Pagoda, seat of the UBVCs Executive Institute Viện Hóa Đạo in Hue on Friday, 4 December 2015.

Memorial Day is one of the key events in the Vietnamese Buddhist calendar, held to honour and commemorate the founding masters of Buddhism in Vietnam, and all those who have sacrificed their lives to contribute to its development over the past 2,000 years. This is the second year running that Police have cracked down on this traditional celebration in Hue. In his report, Lê Công Cầu, Secretary-general of Viện Hóa Đạo and head of the Buddhist Youth Movement cites the following incidents:

In the city of Danang, for several days, local authorities, Security Police, Religious officials and civil defence agents (plain-clothed security agents) have repeatedly called on Giác Minh Pagoda, residence of Venerable Thích Thanh Quang, Acting President of Viện Hóa Đạo, threatening him with reprisals if he travels to Huế for the event. On 2 December, an official order was issued banning Thich Thanh Quang from leaving Giac Minh Pagoda. Several hundred Security Police and civil defence agents have surrounded the Pagoda, keeping surveillance and blocking approach roads and alleys with police vans. Giác Minh Pagoda has been systematically prevented from holding any major Buddhist ceremony over the past 5 years.

In Thua Thiên Huế, leaders of the UBCVs Buddhist Youth Movement (Gia đình Phật tử Việt Nam) in the districts of Phú Vang, Phú Lọc, Quảng Điền were summoned for Police interrogations and forbidden to attend Memorial Day celebrations. In Phú Vang, Police ordered leaders of the “Golden Oriole” class (young Buddhists from 6–13 years old) to tell parents to strictly prohibit their children from taking part in the event.

Lê Công Cầu reported that this is the second time in three months that Vietnam has banned Buddhist childrens religious activities. In September, Police intercepted children on their way to a Youth Camp at Long Quang Pagoda in Hue during the Vu Lan festival. To avoid being caught, many children hid behind sandbanks along Highway No. 1 waiting to catch buses to Hue. When Security Police chased after them, they took refuge in local peoples homes but were finally caught and sent back home, with threats that they would get bad marks or be expelled from school. Despite police harassment, some 300 “Golden Orioles” and their teachers managed to overcome obstacles and attend the camp, which is one of the major gatherings of the youth movement.

– Since 1st December, Police and local officials have systematically visited all local sections of the UBCV and its Youth movement, as well as the homes of local Buddhists in the Hue area, forbidding them from attending Memorial Day on the pretext that Long Quang Pagoda contained “bad, reactionary elements” acting under the name of the UBCV to “sabotage and oppose the Socialist government”. In Hương Thủy village, Buddhist youth leader Nguyễn Tất Trực was so exasperated by continuous visits, threats and harassments by local Police that he hung a sign on his door “No more visits received”. He is currently under strict Police surveillance.

Lê Công Cầu has been subjected to harassments, threats and Police surveillance concerning Memorial Day for over a month. On 14 and 26 November, municipal police publicly warned him that they would ban the UBCVs Memorial Day gathering, and threatened to use violence. They accused the UBCV of using this occasion to hold a national UBCV Congress. On 1st December, they formally placed Lê Công Cầu under house arrest until 4th December, when the commemoration was over. Security Police were immediately posted outside his home, preventing him from leaving the premises and intercepting any visitors.

– Lê Công Cầu also reported that Police had evacuated all outside personnel from the Long Quang Pagoda (e.g. workers building a new kitchen) during the days of 3 and 4 December.

Despite all these threats and obstacles, Buddhist monks, nuns and followers, as well as leaders of the Buddhist Youth Movement from southern and Central Vietnam (Saigon, An Giang, Binh Thuan, Dong Nai, Khanh Hoa provinces) were able to escape Police interception and attend the Memorial Day ceremonies at the Long Quang Pagoda in Hue.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) strongly condemns this new crack-down on the UBCV and its educational youth movement. Although Police claim it is an “illegal organization”, the UBCV has never been formally banned by the communist authorities. Its members are therefore legitimately entitled to pursue peaceful religious activities as guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution.

“This crack-down on a peaceful Buddhist gathering shows Vietnams deceptive policies on freedom of religion or belief”, said Vo Van Ai, VCHR President. “Vietnam is currently debating a law on “Belief and Religion” at the National Assembly which, if adopted as such, will increase government control over religious activities and criminalize the activities of independent, non-registered communities such as the UBCV”.

VCHR calls on the international community to press Vietnam to uphold its binding obligations as a state party to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in particular, to raise these cases with Vietnam during bilateral human rights dialogues and other diplomatic exchanges.

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