PARIS, 4 December 2008 (International Buddhist Information Bureau) – Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Ban, 73, Superior monk at the Ba La Mat pagoda and head of the local representative board of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) in the southern province of Dong Nai has been beaten and his Pagoda vandalized because of his adherence to the outlawed UBCV. In an urgent appeal to UBCV leader Thich Quang Do, received by the International Buddhist Information Bureau today, Thich Nhat Ban said that vandals were acting on the orders of Security Police. He called for help from the international community to cease further violence.
Venerable Thich Nhat Ban outside Ba La Mat Pagoda (12.2.2007)
Thich Nhat Ban reported that on 29th November, two local men, Mai Chi Cuong and Mai Gia Cu broke into the yard of Ba La Mat Pagoda and began to insult and beat two Buddhists who were painting the Pagoda’s façade. The two men, who are brothers, then began to vandalize the pagoda, smashing objects and throwing them around the yard. This continued for three days, from 29 November – 1st December. According to Thich Nhat Ban, the two men are well known for their connections with the local Security Police, and have frequently attacked and beaten him with the Police’s protection. Just recently, in October 2008, the two men forced their way into Ba La Mat Pagoda and brutally beat Thich Nhat Ban on the face and head, causing him serious concussion.
“These attacks against me by vandals acting under Police protection have gone on systematically for years, simply because I am a member of the UBCV. Today, I am old and beset by ill-health. I suffer from persecution and I live in a state of permanent insecurity”. Thich Nhat Ban said he has suffered repeated beatings in recent months. On 14 October 2008, as he visited the neighbouring village of Chu Hai, 20 Security Police arrested him and interrogated him non-stop for 8 hours. When he failed to answer their questions immediately, they beat him unconscious. Security Police accused him of seeking to “incite people to disturb public order”. “You claim to represent the UBCV in Dong Nai Province, but the UBCV is illegal, our government does not recognize it”, they said. Thich Nhat Ban said he still suffers from head pains after the beatings.
Venerable Thich Nhat Ban and remains of smashed objects in the courtyard of Ba La Mat Pagoda (2.12.2008)
Thich Nhat Ban filed a complaint to the local Vietnam Fatherland Front and the Religious Board. On 30th November, a group of local Security officials came to observe the damage. They pretended to draw up a report, but refused Thich Nhat Ban’s request to give him a copy, and rudely insulted him.
These recent attacks follow a consistent pattern of repression against Thich Nhat Ban (secular name Ho Buu Hoa) for his support of the UBCV. He spent 10 years in re-education camp from 1975-1985. On his release, he lived in the Ba La Mat Pagoda on Highway 47 between Saigon and the coastal resort of Vung Tau. In 1991, Security Police smashed the Ba La Mat Pagoda and chained Thich Nhat Ban to a tree by his thumbs, demanding that he leave the area and renounce the UBCV. He refused, and suffered repeated interrogations and threats. In 1995, he was sentenced to 4 years in prison for participating in a UBCV rescue mission for flood victims led by Thich Quang Do.
Rocks piled up by Security Police to prevent Buddhists from entering the Ba La Mat Pagoda (12.2.2007)
Police repression intensified after Thich Nhat Ban was appointed head of the UBCV Representative Board for Dong Nai Province. The Boards are local sections of the UBCV set up to provide humanitarian, educational and spiritual aid to poor people in the southern and central provinces. Although the UBCV is banned by the authorities, Thich Quang Do began creating these Boards in 2005 to give the UBCV de facto existence. Each time a new board is created, Thich Quang Do informs the local authorities and Police. Despite their non-violent, humanitarian activities, the members of these local boards are almost all subjected to harassments, threats and interrogations. However, they continue their humanitarian activities, and have distributed thousands of dollars of relief aid to poor people in many areas, including the Central Highlands.
In February 2007, vandals broke into Ba La Mat Pagoda during the night on several occasions and threw stones into the building. Thich Nhat Ban was seriously wounded, and had to be taken to hospital. Police took no action, despite Thich Nhat Ban’s repeated complaints. On the night of 11th February 2008, Security Police locked the gates of the Ba La Mat Pagoda, forbidding Buddhists from entering, and piled rocks across the entrance (see photo). In July 2008, Thich Nhat Ban attempted to travel to Binh Dinh for the funeral of the late Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, but was intercepted and turned back by Police.