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Security forces surround Bao Quoc Pagoda in Hue –Thich Thien Hanh denounces plan to suppress the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam – US State Department official Michael Orona visits Thich Quang Do in Saigon

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PARIS, 10 September 2007 (IBIB) – Widespread Police controls, surveillance and repression of Buddhists from the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) are intensifying as the government pursues its virulent media campaign launched 3 weeks ago against UBCV Deputy leader Venerable Thich Quang Do for supporting farmers and peasants demonstrating against government confiscation of lands.

These base attacks against Thich Quang Do on the State-controlled television, radio and press have caused outrage, not only from the Buddhist community, but from Vietnamese of all different religious and political views. Interviewed by Radio Free Asia on 8-9 September, Hoa Hao dignitary Huynh Van Hiep, Roman Catholic Priest Nguyen Thanh, Cao Dai dignitary Nguyen Thanh Liem all expressed indignation at the government’s slanderous accusations, and affirmed their solidarity with Thich Quang Do. Leaders of UBCV local boards all over the country have sent strong letters of protest to the Vietnamese leadership (e.g. Tien Giang (1.9.2007), Ba Ria-Vung Tau (1.9.2007), Hue (1.9.2007), An Giang (8.9.2007), Binh Dinh (9.9.2007). The authorities are reacting by tightening Police surveillance and controls. The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) has received scores of alerts from UBCV leaders who have been summoned for interrogations or subjected to harassments by Security Police.

l In the central city of Hue, crowds of Security Police are surrounding the Bao Quoc Pagoda, residence of one of the UBCV’s most senior officials, Venerable Thich Thien Hanh, Deputy Head of the Institute of the Sangha and Chairman of the UBCV provincial board in Thua Thien Hue. Thich Thien Hanh told IBIB Director Vo Van Ai by mobile phone today that Security Police have also surrounded all major UBCV Pagodas in Hue. “As I speak to you now”, he said, “crowds of Security Police in uniform and plain-clothes encircle Bao Quoc Pagoda. Police are also stationed inside the pagoda’s courtyard and grounds. Police dogs keep watch outside my door”. He is forbidden to leave his pagoda.

Thich Thien Hanh said Security Police systematically take down the number-plates of all vehicles approaching the Pagoda. They control all visitors, intercept members of the congregation and take them to the Police station, where Police subject them to humiliating body searches and interrogations. Security Police also follow Buddhists to their homes to threaten and harass them. “The local Buddhists are terrorized”, he said. Thich Thien Hanh noted that these draconian Police controls have continued non-stop since August 26th, following the government clamp-down on UBCV aid for “Victims of Injustice” and the publication of hundreds of injurious articles against Thich Quang Do in the state-controlled press.

In a letter to President Nguyen Minh Triet, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and National Assembly President Nguyen Phu Trong on 1st September, Thich Thien Hanh described the government’s media attacks as “the first step in a government-orchestrated plan to eradicate the UBCV before the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church holds its VI Congress in November 2007”.

He told Vo Van Ai: “Step 1 is to blacken the name of Venerable Thich Quang Do and turn popular opinion against him by slandering him in the nationwide media. Step 2 is to arrest Venerable Thich Quang Do, put him on trial and imprison him for “inciting people to demonstrate”. Step 3 is to take UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang to Hanoi and give him an honorific title at the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church’s Congress. We all know that top Security official Tran Tu visited the UBCV Patriarch on 29th August and invited him to become head of the State-sponsored VBC. With Venerable Thich Quang Do in prison, Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang sequestered in Hanoi and all the prominent UBCV leaders surrounded by Police, the government would have free rein to suppress the UBCV”.

In his letter to the Vietnamese leadership, Thich Thien Hanh called on Hanoi to immediately cease the arbitrary accusations against Thich Quang Do and put an end to Police repression. The “media’s sordid and slanderous charge, i.e. that Thich Quang Do has “received money from hostile forces and reactionaries abroad to incite people to cause disorder” is nothing but a deliberate aim to vilify and calumniate Venerable Thich Quang Do”, he wrote. Everyone knows that the “Victims of Injustice” have been staging demonstrations for the past 20 years, long before Thich Quang Do sought to support them. “He cannot be accused of “inciting” them to demonstrate”, said Thich Thien Hanh.

Furthermore, Thich Thien Hanh noted that the so-called “money from hostile forces” came from overseas Vietnamese – the very same people to whom Hanoi is ceaselessly appealing to trade and invest in Vietnam. “And what about younbsp;?” Thich Thien Hanh asked the Vietnamese leaders. “You seek funding from Europe, China, Russia, America, Japan…Are they “hostile forces”nbsp;? They pour hundreds of millions of dollars and Euros into your coffers.. Whereas the UBCV has never received any funds from foreign governments, and the little we receive from overseas Vietnamese is infinitesimal compared to you… It is outrageous that you insult and slander the UBCV in this waynbsp;!”

Thich Thien Hanh told the Vietnamese leadership that Thich Quang Do had spent his whole life helping victims of poverty and disaster, and had often paid a high price for his kindness. In 1994, Thich Quang Do was arrested for leading a UBCV rescue mission to relieve flood victims in the Mekong Delta and sentenced to 5 years in prison. Just a few months ago, inspired by the Grameen Bank projects in Bangladesh, Thich Quang Do “sent money raised by Buddhists overseas to UBCV Representative Boards in the provinces of Quang Tri, Quang Nam, Thua Thien-Hue and other poor regions, instructing them to set up programmes to give micro-credit to poor peasants and farmers to help them overcome poverty themselves”. The campaign to support “Victims of Injustice” was just one more of Thich Quang Do’s initiatives to help the poor and destitute in Vietnam.

In his letter, Thich Thien Hanh expressed outrage at the sordid accusations and base language used against Thich Quang Do in the official press. “Thich Quang Do is an eminent scholar, writer and respected translator of Buddhist scriptures. During his 10 years in internal exile and his decades under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, all alone, Thich Quang Do has accomplished a task worthy of a whole nation. He has completed the translation of the “Great Dictionary of Buddhist Terms”, with six volumes and 7,374 pages”. The Dictionary, which was printed overseas, “is an invaluable contribution to Vietnamese culture in general, and a most precious source of reference to all those who wish to study Buddhism in Vietnam”.

Thich Thien Hanh made five demands to the Vietnamese leadership: (a) to cease its slanderous media attacks against Thich Quang Do and the UBCV; (b) cease Police pressure, including surveillance, summonses for interrogation on UBCV leaders at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery (Thich Quang Do), Bao Quoc Pagoda in Hue and other UBCV Pagodas; (c) cease issuing Police summonses to interrogate Thich Quang Do; (d) lift all restrictions and house arrest of UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do; (e) restore the legitimate status of the outlawed UBCV and place the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church outside the control of the Vietnam Fatherland Front so that.

Thich Thien Hanh concluded his letter by stating: “We (the UBCV) are not opposed to anyone, we have no political agenda, we do not plot to seize power, we have no ambitions to exercise political rule. We simply call on the Vietnamese government to give back to Buddhists everything they have taken from us, so that we can all sit down together and settle Buddhist affairs between people of the same faith, with no interference from political powers”.

l On Friday 7th September, Mr. Michael Orona, Deputy Director of the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, visited Venerable Thich Quang Do at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon. The visit lasted almost two hours. Mr. Orona expressed his concern for the current plight of the UBCV and the human rights situation in general. Thich Quang Do gave an overall view of the status of religious freedom in Vietnam, concluding that there had been no concrete improvements. On the contrary, Thich Quang Do said the authorities were increasing their stranglehold on all independent religions, and reinforcing restrictions and controls. Mr Orona said he would reflect Thich Quang Do’s analysis to the US State Department.

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