PARIS, 14.01.2014 (IBIB) – At 8:00 am this morning (Vietnam time), Venerable Thich Chon Tam of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) was intercepted and assaulted by plain-clothed Security agents as he was riding his motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). As he stopped at a red traffic light near Nguyen Van Cu bridge, a car pulled up in front of him (number plate 55 P8 4324). Another car then rammed into his motorbike from behind. Plain-clothed security agents got out and began to assault him. Thich Chon Tam cried out loud and appealed for help from passers-by. As a crowd began to gather, a third car suddenly pulled up and a man – ostensibly their chief – told the agents to move on: “that’s enough for now”, he said.
Thich Chon Tam, who is the newly-appointed Secretary-general of the UBCV’s Institute of the Sangha and assistant to the Patriarch Thich Quang Do, has been the target of close Police surveillance and harassments for several days. On 8 January, he was expelled from Hue by Security Police and forced to return to Saigon after he attempted to attend a UBCV commemoration service. Since then, Police keep permanent watch on the Tu Hieu Pagoda in Saigon where he is in temporary residence, and follow him wherever he goes. In an urgent communication to the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) this morning, Thich Chon Tam wrote: “How can Vietnam host UN International Vesak Day when Police beat and intimidate Buddhist monks in broad daylight on the streets of Saigon?”
Crack-down on the UBCV
Police harassment of Thich Chon Tam is not an isolated incident. It is part of an on-going crack-down on members of the new UBCV executive announced by Thich Quang Do in early January 2014. Repression has been particularly harsh in Hue, where Police prevented the new UBCV Deputy leader Thich Nhu Dat from organizing a Memorial Day ceremony on 10 January at Long Quang Pagoda, the UBCV’s new secretariat.
Thich Nhu Dat told IBIB that Police had systematically intercepted and threatened 300 UBCV monks, nuns and youth leaders from all over southern and central Vietnam who were invited to attend the ceremony. Police controls were set up at the airport and train station, as well as numerous blockades on the roads from Highway No. 1 to the Pagoda’s entrance. Over 100 Police surrounded Long Quang Pagoda, and several leaders of the UBCV youth movement were threatened, harassed and placed under house arrest (see below).
Thich Nhu Dat said that he and his monks went ahead with the ceremony despite the ban, and were determined not to give in to Police intimidation. “They told us we could not celebrate Memorial Day because (a) The UBCV is banned (b) all who follow the UBCV are breaking the law, and (c) Thich Nhu Dat is a reactionary monk”. The truth is that the UBCV cares about the sufferings of the Vietnamese people. We call for human rights, not only for the Buddhists but for 90 million Vietnamese. I may be “reactionary” in the eyes of the Police, but that won’t stop me supporting the UBCV’s peaceful movement for religious freedom and human rights led by our Patriarch Thich Quang Do”.
“With just one signature we can throw you in jail !”
The leader of the UBCV Buddhist Youth Movement and newly-appointed Secretary-general of the UBCV’s Executive Institute Lê Cong Cau was arrested in this crack-down on 1 January 2014 and remains under house arrest today. He is forbidden to go outside or receive visits. Police are stationed outside his door and he is subjected to “working sessions” (interrogations) twice each day. Police threaten to imprison him if he does not step down from his post in the UBCV. At the end of each working session, the Security Police warn: “With just one signature we can throw you in jail”.
So far, 23 Buddhist Youth Movement leaders have been arrested in this crack-down and are currently under house arrest in Hue. They are: Ho Nguyen Minh, Y, Ho Van Nich, Hoang Nhu Dao, Hoang Tanh, Hoang Thi Hong Phuong, Lê Cong Cau, Lê Nhat Thinh, LêVan Thanh, Ngo Duc Tien, Nguyen Chien, Nguyen Dinh Mong, Nguyen Duc Khoa, Nguyen Sac, Nguyen Tat Truc, Nguyen Thi Huong, Nguyen Van De, Truong Dien Hieu, Truong Minh Dung, Truong Trong Thao, Van Dinh An, Van Dinh Tat, Van Thi Hieu, Van Tien Nhi.
UBCV nun Thich Nu Dong Hieu is beaten by Police in Danang
At 4:00am on 10 January 2014, as Venerable Thich Thanh Quang and a young nun, Thich Nu Dong Hieu from the Giac Minh Pagoda in Danang called a car to take them to Hue for the Memorial Day service, Security Police surrounded the Pagoda and pushed them back inside At 7:00am, a crowd of Security Police broke into the Pagoda again, shouting insults and rudely. When Thich Thanh Quang ordered them to leave the premises, a burly Security officer violently attacked Thich Nu Dong Hieu, slapping her repeatedly in the face until she fainted.
The International Buddhist Information Bureau deplores Police harassment of peaceful Buddhist followers. Vietnam is a state party to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and has a binding obligation to respect religious freedom. IBIB calls on the international community to call for specific improvements in freedom of religion or belief with the Vietnamese government at its upcoming Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council next month, notably the re-establishment of the UBCV’s legitimate status, the release of UBCV leader Thich Quang Do and all others detained for the peaceful exercise of their religious beliefs.