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AFP : Prominent Buddhist dissident slams Vietnam for arbitrary detention

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HANOI, Oct 28 (AFP) – One of Vietnam’s most prominent religious dissidents has called on the communist regime to lift the “verbal” house arrest order against himself and the elderly head of his outlawed Buddhist church.

In a letter sent Monday to the country’s leadership, Thich Quang Do, deputy head of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), said he and the church’s patriarch Thich Huyen Quang had been detained for over a year “in flagrant violation” of the law.

“In the civilized world, I have never heard of any country that imprisons its citizens by mere ‘verbal orders’ as they do in Vietnam,” the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize nominee said in his first public statement since his arrest.

“Needless to say, neither Thich Huyen Quang or I have ever been given the reasons for our detention.

“We have never been told what crimes we have committed, and we have never been formally sentenced or convicted of any criminal offence.”

Extracts from the letter were released Thursday by the church’s Paris-based information arm, the International Buddhist Information Bureau.

Thich Quang Do, 76, said he is being held in total isolation at a monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. The 87-year-old Thich Huyen Quang, who has been under effective house arrest without charge or trial for more than two decades, is being detained at a monastery in central Binh Dinh province.

The UBCV was officially banned in 1981 because it refused to come under the ruling Communist Party’s control.

Last month the US State Department designated Vietnam as one of the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom.

A renewed crackdown on the UBCV began on October 8 last year when security police intercepted a vehicle carrying Thich Huyen Quang, Thich Quang Do and other monks as they left a monastery in central Binh Dinh province.

After a tense 10-hour standoff during which around 1,000 Buddhists formed a protective human wall around the vehicle, they were allowed to proceed, but the following day they were again stopped by police.

The pair were subsequently placed under house arrest without trial and accused by the foreign ministry of being in possession of state secrets and trying to reorganise the church with the help of outside forces.

“If the state effectively caught us in possession of State secrets, why didnt they make these ‘secret documents’ public, so as to inform the domestic and international media?” Thich Quang Do said.

“These events did not happen yesterday, they took place over a year ago… Yet the authorities have kept silent all this time and maintained us under investigation for over a year.”

Six other senior monks were condemned to two years’ administrative detention, while hundreds of UBCV pagodas were placed under surveillance and followers were harassed, according to the church’s information arm.

Last week Human Rights Watch accused the communist regime of intensifying its campaign against religious freedom.

The New York-based group also criticised a new law due to go into effect on November 15 that bans any religious activity deemed to threaten national security, public order or national unity.


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