l At 8.00 am (Vietnam time) on Saturday 19th November 2005, Security Police clashed with Buddhists at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery and physically assaulted Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). Thich Quang Do was leaving the monastery to preside a Memorial Ceremony at Giac Hoa Pagoda (Saigon), for Zen Master Nguyen Thieu, founder of the “Lam Te” Zen Buddhist school in Binh Dinh and Hue in 1675. This Memorial Ceremony is usually held in Binh Dinh province, but the local communist authorities prohibited the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang from holding it at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery, where he is currently under house arrest. On 13th November, Thich Huyen Quang sent a letter to UBCV Buddhists around the country urging them not to risk reprisals by travelling to Binh Dinh, but to organize ceremonies in their own pagodas.
According to UBCV sources, events began on Friday 18th November, when Police learned that many UBCV dignitaries planned to attend the ceremomy in Saigon. To prevent this, the People’s Committee sent convocations to all senior UBCV monks, including Venerables Thich Quang Do, Thich Nguyen Ly, Thich Khong Tanh, Thich Nhat Ban etc… summoning them for “working sessions” (interrogations) at 8.00 am on Saturday, at the same time as the Memorial Ceremony. All UBCV senior monks and nuns in the provinces, from Central Vietnam to the Mekong Delta received similar convications from the local communist authorities, Police and Religious Board, and were forbidden to travel to Saigon. From Friday evening onwards, the land phones and Internet acces at Giac Hoa Pagoda were cut, and mobile phone communications were jammed.
On Saturday morning, at 8.00 am when six UBCV monks came to escort Thich Quang Do to Giac Hoa Pagoda, 50 Security Police (both in uniform and plain-clothes) were standing in the coutryard of the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery. As Thich Quang Do came downstairs, 10 Security agents rushed to the staircase to push him back, but the UBCV monks interevened and surrounded the UBCV Deputy leader, escorting him outside. The Police ordered Thich Quang Do to come with them for interrogation, but he refused, announcing that he must perform his religious duties first, and would see to the interrogations later.
As Thich Quang Do walked calmly towards the Monastery’s gates, Security Police seized him and tried to force him back inside, pullling the elderly monk and tearing his robes to pieces. UBCV monk Thich Thien Minh, released this year after 26 years in reeducation camp, stood in front of Thich Quang Do and challenged Police to arrest him instead of his master. “I have experienced your policies of religious discrimination for 26 years”, he said, “I am not afraid”. As the Police continued their assault, Thich Thien Minh cried out : “Police are assaulting our master ! This is a violation of religious freedom”. Crowds began to gather on Tran Huy Lieu Street, and joined in by shouting out protests against religious persecution.
Confronted by the growing crowds and increasing tension, Police finally allowed Thich Quang Do and the six UBCV monks to procede to Giac Hoa pagoda, following them in Police cars. UBCV monks told the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) that several hundred Security Police surrounded the Giac Hoa Pagoda throughout the day. A number of security agents masquerading as Buddhists forced their way into the Pagoda and filmed the whole proceedings, taking pictures of everyone present. Nevertheless, despite these tight restrictions, over 100 prominent monks and nuns representing the UBCV from all over the country defied Police controls and attended the Memorial Ceremony. Venerable Thich Quang Do returned to the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in the afternoon, shaken and very tired, but otherwise safe and sound. The situation remains tense, however, and communications to Giac Hoa Pagoda were still not re-established today (Sunday 20th Nevember).
The Giac Hoa Pagoda in Binh Thanh Ward has been under constant Police surveillance since October 2003, when its Superior monk, Thich Vien Dinh, was appointed to the UBCV leadership and subsequently placed under house arrest in the government clamp-dowm. Thich Vien Dinh is Vice-President of the UBCV’s Executive Institute “Vien Hoa Dao”.
l Following the announcement by the US State Department on November 8th 2005 that Vietnam remains on the list of the worst violators of religious freedom (Countries of particular Concern), Vietnam has reacted by stepping up threats and repression against the UBCV. The major target of repression are the UBCV Representative Boards set up between July-October 2005 in the provinves of Quang Nam-Danang, Thua Thien Hue, Binh Dinh, Khanh Hoa, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Dong Nai, Hau Giang and An Giang to support people in these poor provinces. At the same time, a vilification campaign has been launched against Thich Quang Do in the State media, denouncing his endorsement of these local UBCV sections as “impostures” and “unlawful”. Security Police have systematically interrogated UBCV monks, nuns and lay-followers, warning them to disband these sections and cease all contact with the UBCV.
– On 11th November 2005, the Thua-Thien Hue People’s Committee sent a notification to Venerable Thich Quang Do and Venerable Thich Thien Hanh (Ref. 3592/UBND-XH) declaring “illegal” the creation of a UBCV representative board in Thua Thien Hue. They ordered Thich Quang Do to immediately disband the board and warned that any activities it might undertake would be “dealt with as violations of the law” ;
– On 11th November, the Executive Committee of the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS) issued a “Declaration” (418/TB/HDTS) refuting the “imposture” of “certain individuals” in the UBCV who “seek to re-establish an organization that has been absorbed into the VCB since 1981”.
– On 14th November, Venerable Thich Thanh Tu, Vice Chairman of the State-sponsored VBS Executive Council, denounced Thich Quang Do’s appointment of UBCV representative boards as “an imposture”. Speaking on the official Vietnam News Agency, he accused Thich Quang Do of signing “decisions [that are] legally invalid and contrary both to the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha’s Charter and the law of the State of Vietnam,” and warned that “this is an attempt to undermine the solidarity in the Buddhist organisation and to harm the national interest.” Thich Thanh Tu’s declaration is clearly a threat against Thich Quang Do and UBCV leaders. Under the broadly-defined “national security” provisions in the Vietnamese Criminal Code, offences of “undermining solidarity” and “harming national interests” are punishable with very heavy prison sentences in Vietnam ;
– On 14th November 2005, Security Police and local Communist Party officials in Hue issued a verbal “Administrative Detention” order on Venerable Thich Thien Hanh. They prohibited him from leaving the Bao Quoc Pagoda, and placed him under Police surveillance ;
Similar declarations were issued by the local authorities against several UBCV Provincial Committees, e.g. in Binh Dinh (Ref. 02/TB-BTG, 9.11.2005), Danang (Ref. 5978/VP-NCPC, 14.11.2005) etc…, and members of several committees have been intimidated and harassed. On 15th November, Thich Chon Tam, head of the An Giang UBCV Provincial committee, was threatened by Security Police to resign and cut off all contacts with the banned UBCV.