PARIS, 18 April 2008 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) has obtained a copy of a secret Communist Party document that reveals a state-orchestrated policy of repression against the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), contrasting starkly with the government’s claims of “respecting religious freedom” in Vietnam.
The document concerns Buddhist monk Thich Tri Khai (see IBIB Press Release, 3.4.2008), who received expulsion orders from Giac Hai Pagoda in Lam Dong Province. UBCV monk Thich Nhu Tan revealed that his case was part of an intensified campaign to submit UBCV monks and Pagodas to State control before Vietnam hosts the UN International Vesak Day in May 2008.
“Secret Plan” No. 44-KH/BCD
13 September 2007
The “Secret Plan” No. 44-KH/BCD, entitled “Plan to struggle against Thich Tri Khai for abusing the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha and working for the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam to oppose the Don Duong District Buddhist Board and the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha” is issued by the Don Duong District Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) Steering Committee on Religious Affairs and signed by Ly Van Kiet, Deputy Head of the Steering Committee and Assistant Secretary-general of the Don Duong VCP. Dated 13.9.2007, it contains 5 parts: “1. The situation of Buddhism and Buddhist activities; 2. Aims and requirements; 3. Methods of struggle; 4. Time-frame; 5. Measures for implementation”.
Part 1 notes: “There are more than 21,000 Buddhists in Don Duong district and some 15 Buddhist Pagodas, all built before 1975” (i.e. before the Communists took power, which means they belong to the UBCV). “After the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha [VBS, State-sponsored Church] was founded in 1981 under the motto of “Buddhism – the People – Socialism” (…), alongside certain achievements, there were a number of monks and nuns in the district whose progress was limited… One case is Thich Tri Khai of Giac Hai Pagoda in Thanh My city who even now fails to comply with the orders of the [VBS] district Buddhist Board and the Lam Dong Buddhist Executive Board. Specifically, he supports the so-called “Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam” led by Thich Quang Do… On 2.9.2007, Thich Tri Khai declared that he had become Deputy Chief of the UBCV’s provincial representative board in Lam Dong, and would run the [Giac Hai] Pagoda without taking orders from anyone. The evolution of these events have prompted Don Duong district Communist Party’s Steering Committee on Religious Affairs to devise a plan to struggle against the illegal activities of Thich Quang Do’s so-called “Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam” and Thich Tri Khai at Giac Hai Pagoda as follows:
“2. Aims and requirements; (1) the struggle against the illegal activities of the so-called UBCV and Thich Tri Khai is the struggle of the State and the whole people against the plot of “peaceful evolution” orchestrated by hostile forces who take advantage of religion to oppose the State and sabotage the people’s great tradition of unity; (2) to unmask Thich Tri Khai’s illegal religious activities by exposing them before public opinion (i.e. to organise “public denunciation sessions”. Most frequent during the North Vietnamese Land Reforms of the 1950s, this method is routinely used against political and religious dissidents in Vietnam today, IBIB’s note); (3) to struggle determinedly against Thich Tri Khai’s abuse of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha and support the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam in order to undermine his authority and isolate him completely, not only from his followers, but from other monks and nuns, thus preventing the spread of the UBCV’s illegal ideology and activities in the district”.
3. Methods of Struggle; “The struggle against Thich Tri Khai is synonymous with the struggle of [State-controlled] Buddhism against the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. The district Buddhist Board, the Fatherland Front and all related organs and organizations must closely coordinate… in order to mobilize local people against those who take advantage of religion. The competent authorities must consolidate evidence in the form of complaints from local people and religious followers about Thich Tri Khai’s morals and virtue before launching a public accusation against him”. These complaints will then be forwarded to the VBS Board, the Fatherland Front and Security Police at the provincial level for further action.
In the section on Measures for Implementation, the documents instructs local sections of the Communist Party’s Department of Propaganda and Mobilization, the Fatherland Front, judiciary organs, Security Police, the Religious and People’s Board and the Thanh My City VCP Executive Committee “to thoroughly master this Plan and actively take charge of its implementation”.
This “Secret Plan” reveals the gulf between rhetoric and reality in Vietnam’s religious policies:
a) The case of Thich Tri Khai shows that the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS) has no control or influence on Buddhist affairs. The “Plan” to expel Thich Tri Khai from Giac Hai pagoda was decided by the local Communist Party’s Steering Committee on Religious Affairs, who passed down orders to the VBS. Indeed, the VBS does not even have the right to directly implement the Party’s orders, but must wait until they are “coordinated” by the VCP Department of Propaganda and Mobilization, the Fatherland Front, Security Police and Party’s Executive Committee in Thanh My City. Clearly, the VBS is merely a political tool of the Communist Party of Vietnam;
b) The conflict with Thich Tri Khai stems from his support of the outlawed UBCV and his refusal to submit to VBS control. Yet the Communist Party’s “Plan” consists of “undermining his authority”, “isolating” him, collecting “evidence” from local people to smear his reputation – in brief, establishing his guilt “before launching a public accusation against him” in complete disregard of the presumption of innocence enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution. But this strategy has failed. As IBIB reported, in April 2008, the Don Duong authorities employed every possible method, from harassment, threats, to even offering bribes of 500,000 VND to mobilize people to denounce Thich Tri Khai. Despite these incentives, only 12 people signed a petition supporting his expulsion, whereas 239 Buddhists launched a counter petition opposing the government’s action;
c) The Communist Party’s Steering Committee on Religious Affairs denounces the “illegal” activities of the “so-called Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam” led by Thich Quang Do. Yet Vietnam has never issued any legal decision formally banning the UBCV. The UBCV has therefore the right to pursue its legitimate religious activities;
d) according to the “time-frame” for implementing this Plan, specified in section 4 of the document, the Thich Tri Khai affair must be “terminated” before November 2007. However, by April 2008, the combined efforts of multiple state agencies had failed to turn popular opinion against the UBCV monk. This shows the tenacity of grass-roots UBCV Buddhists. Vietnam routinely tries to minimise the UBCV by claiming they are a “minority”. But in fact, they are Buddhism’s silent majority. Whilst they may not be vocal or conspicuous, they form a strong constituency of people who are braving injustice and repression from day to day to defend their beliefs.