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Quang Ngai Police ban Buddhist leader Thich Huyen Quang from traveling to Ho Chi Minh City to undergo urgent surgery

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In a letter sent by fax to the Vietnamese leadership today, Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) called for the urgent release of Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and his immediate transfer to Ho Chi Minh City for medical treatment.

Mr. Ai reports that the 86-year-old Patriarch is suffering from a painful growth near his eye. Doctors at Quang Ngai hospital examined Thich Huyen Quang last week and believe the growth may be cancerous. Since Quang Ngai hospital is not equipped to treat this, doctors have recommended that Thich Huyen Quang undergo urgent surgery in a Ho Chi Minh City hospital. However, on Wednesday (12th February 2003) Quang Ngai Security Police rejected their demand and banned Thich Huyen Quang from leaving the province.

“The Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang has been detained without trial since 1982 without ever knowing the reasons for his arrest”, said Mr. Ai, “He is deprived of his civil rights, denied the basic rights of religious freedom and freedom of movement. He cannot travel freely to Saigon”. Mr Ai stressed that Thich Huyen Quang also suffers from high blood pressure, chronic arthritis and stomach ulcers. His health had seriously deteriorated as a result of poor conditions and lack of medical care during 21 years’ detention in a damp hut adjacent to the Quang Phuoc Pagoda, Cho Chua hamlet in the remote central province of Quang Ngai.

In his letter to Communist Party Secretary-general Nong Duc Manh, President Tran Duc Luong and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, Mr Ai recalled that Thich Huyen Quang’s health has been a serious concern for some time. In 2001, UBCV Deputy leader Thich Quang Do wrote twice to the government calling for the Patriarch’s release on humanitarian grounds, declaring that if Thich Huyen Quang was not released before June 7th 2001, he would personally lead a UBCV delegation to Quang Ngai to escort the Patriarch to Saigon. Just six days before his planned trip, on June 1st 2001, Security Police in Saigon’s Phu Nhuan district arrested Thich Quang Do and sentenced him to two years administrative detention. He has been detained incommunicado since then at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery.

“Was the Phu Nhuan Security Police operating under its own initiative, or was it top-level government policy that prevented an honest citizen from helping an elderly person in distress, from acting righteously towards a sick man, in keeping with Vietnam’s age-old traditions ?” asked Mr. Ai. “The Vietnamese government, whatever its ideology or opinions, cannot turn a blind eye to the UBCV Patriarch’s grave condition…”

“I urge you to formally release the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang and allow him to travel to Ho Chi Minh City for this urgent operation. It is not only the Patriarch’s existence that is at stake, but also the life and death of our nation’s very essence, that of independent Buddhism in Vietnam”.

Mr Ai recalled that international personalities and governments around the world have repeatedly called for the release of Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy Thich Quang Do. Only last week, the European Union’s External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten called on Vietnam to free the two men, stating that “the [European] Commission esteems that none of the charges laid against these two men justifies their imprisonment or house arrest, and that their advanced age should be taken into consideration”.

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