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Security Police prevent Buddhist dissident Thich Quang Do from paying a New Year’s visit to Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang

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One guard outside Giac Hoa pagoda in Saigon, Security Police take a midnight nap (Photo taken from the Giac Hoa pagoda at 11:30 p.m. on 16 February 2005)The International Buddhist Information Bureau is informed that Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy Head of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) was prevented by Security Police from setting off today to Binh Dinh province (central Vietnam) with a delegation of UBCV monks to pay a traditional Lunar New Year’s visit to the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang.

Since Vietnam was designated as a “country of particular concern” in September 2004 by the United States for its egregious violations of religious freedom, it is under pressure not co commit grave religious freedom violations before 15th March 2005, when President Bush will decide which of 15 possible sanctions to apply to Vietnam. Because of this, instead of resorting to its customary repressive ways, Security Police used unusually subtle methods to prevent Thich Quang Do from making this trip.

Indeed, instead of physically intercepting the UBCV Deputy leader as they did in November 2004 and on several previous occasions, the authorities systematically prevented all UBCV monks in Saigon who planned to take part in Thich Quang Do’s delegation from leaving their monasteries and pagodas, thus effectively depriving the UBCV Deputy leader of all means of transport to travel to Binh Dinh. The authorities achieved this by monitoring all phone conversations between UBCV Buddhists in Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon), and imposing stringent Police surveillance on all UBCV monks and activists.

One guard outside Giac Hoa pagoda in Saigon, Security Police take a midnight nap (Photo taken from the Giac Hoa pagoda at 11:30 p.m. on 16 February 2005)Indeed, over the Lunar New year (Tet), tension has risen between Security Police and monks and followers of the banned UBCV. All UBCV monks’ cell phones have been cut off for the past four days, and Security Police have maintained round-the-clock surveillance of UBCV activists, bringing camp beds to sleep outside the Pagodas and keep constant watch. Monks at Giac Hoa Pagoda report that 10 Security agents keep the pagoda under constant surveillance, taking turns to sleep on camp beds outside the Pagoda’s entrance. Reports of pressure on other UBCV Buddhists in Saigon include :

l 15.02.2005, Tran Ngoc Bao, Deputy Head of the Ho Chi Minh City Religious Board, Mr. Phong, head of the Binh Thanh Religious Board and other local officials visited Venerable Thich Vien Dinh, Deputy Head of the UBCV’s Executive Institute (Vien Hoa Dao) and Superior monk of the Giac Hoa Pagoda in central Saigon. The officials said they were visiting him to present their New Year’s greetings, but also to “dissuade Thich Quang Do from leading a UBCV delegation to visit Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang in Binh Dinh because of the unstable situation in the province, and also to discuss Thich Quang Do’s Open Letter to Vietnamese intellectuals, writers and artists for democracy and pluralism in Vietnam”.

Thich Vien Dinh replied that he was happy to receive their New Year’s greetings, but had nothing to say about the other two subjects. Later the same day, Thich Vien Dinh received another visit from officials from the Binh Thanh Fatherland Front, who came to pay their respects, and also warned the monk not to travel to Binh Dinh with Thich Quang Do because of the “delicate, unstable situation”. Thich Vien Dinh expressed his astonishment that the State could open its arms to “overseas visitors” (i.e. Thich Nhat Hanh and his delegation of 190 overseas Sangha), and “unroll the red carpet so that [foreign visitors] could visit Nguyen Thieu Monastery and pay their respects to Thich Huyen Quang without the slightest impediment… Whereas Vietnamese citizens such as myself are not allowed to travel to Binh Dinh to visit my own Pagoda nor to bow down before Thich Huyen Quang, the spiritual father of all Vietnamese Buddhists. Is this what you call freedom of religion ? Is this what you call respecting our ancestral traditions ?”

l In Go Vap, Saigon on 15.02.2005, local Religious Board officials summoned Thich Duc Chon, member of the Executive Committee of the UBCV’s Institute of Sangha, and Head of the Department of Lay-Buddhist Affairs and Thich Duc Thang, Secretary of the UBCV’s Executive Institute, Vien Hoa Dao, on 16.2.2005, to the local People’s Committee for questioning on “Buddhist affairs”. They informed the monks that they had seized “secret documents” proving that “hostile elements are trying to abuse the name of the UBCV to organize a delegation to visit the Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang in Binh Dinh”. When pressed to produce these documents, they said they were held by their “superiors”. However, the officials firmly declared that the State solemnly prohibited the monks from traveling to Binh Dinh, and posted Security Police outside their Pagodas to prevent them from going outside.

l In Thu Duc, Saigon’s 2nd Ward, UBCV monk Thich Khong Tanh, Superior monk of Lien Tri Pagoda, was subjected to similar pressure. Over several weeks, Security agents have kept round-the-clock watch on his pagoda, sleeping outside on camp beds during the night. Every time he stepped outside the Pagoda, Security agents insulted him aggressively and threatened him with violence if he did not renounce the UBCV. Recently, Security Police attempted to beat up Thich Khong Tanh, but local Buddhists intervened and forced the Police to step back. Two days ago, the local Police authorities warned him not to travel with Thich Quang Do “because car accidents are very frequent these days”.

l In Ward 8, Saigon, Venerable Thich Nguyen Ly, Superior monk of Tu Hieu pagoda and Treasurer of the UBCV’s Executive Institute (Vien Hoa Dao) is also closely monitored by Security Police. All Buddhists entering and leaving his pagoda are closely followed by Police. Thich Nguyen Ly was sentenced to 2 years administrative detention in the government crackdown on the new UBCV leadership in October 2003, and is not allowed to travel outside his Pagoda. He had hoped to travel with Thich Quang Do, but was warned by Police that if he did so, he would be imprisoned for breaking his house arrest order.

l In Binh Dinh province, Security Police have increased surveillance around the Nguyen Thieu Monastery where UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang is currently held under house arrest. The Monastery is surrounded, and Police keep watch day and night on the unique road leading to the Monastery.

l On 15.02.2005 in the central city of Quy Nhon, Security Police arrested a UBCV monk and interrogated him about Thich Quang Do’s coming visit. This monk, whose name we do not reveal for security reasons, was previously arrested in November 2004 when he went to visit Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang who was gravely ill in Quy Nhon hospital.

The International Buddhist Information Bureau strongly protests against the underhand methods used by the Vietnamese communist authorities to detain and restrict the freedoms of UBCV monks. In a recent communication to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on the situation of Thich Quang Do, Vietnam declared that the UBCV Deputy leader was totally free. Yet he is unable to pay a traditional visit of courtesy to his 87-year-old friend and colleague, Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang. The I.B.I.B. calls on the international community to strongly urge Vietnam to allow Thich Quang Do to make this visit in the coming days, without any further obstacle, in accordance with the guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of movement enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam acceded in 1982.

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