The International Buddhist International Information Bureau (IBIB) has received a copy of a forceful Petition sent to Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai by two senior dignitaries of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) calling for the release of UBCV monks arrested in the government crackdown on the newly-elected UBCV leadership in October 2003. The Very Venerable Thich Duc Chon (1), representing the Council of Sages of the UBCV’s Institute of the Sangha, and Venerable Thich Vien Dinh (1), representing the Steering Committee of the UBCV’s Executive Institute (Vien Hoa Dao), sent the Petition by registered post from Ho Chi Minh City on April 19, 2004.
Written just one year after the landmark meeting between UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai in Hanoi in April 2003, the Petition recalls the great hopes of religious tolerance inspired by this meeting – hopes that were swiftly shattered by the October crackdown and the ensuing campaign to isolate, silence and suppress the new UBCV leadership. Its signatories strongly condemn the unlawful detention of UBCV leaders, and reaffirm the UBCV’s determination to resist State repression.
The UBCV is still surviving, and it continues to pursue its religious activities within the limits of the legal framework”, affirmed the Petition, despite the fact that its leaders are “subjected to authoritarian discrimination and controls, forced to endure deep suffering and deprivations”, and obliged to “overcome innumerable obstacles in order to keep our people’s religious beliefs alive until today”.
All Buddhists, it said, were greatly encouraged when “the Communist Party and the government courageously admitted their mistakes towards religion in general and Buddhism in particular” at the meeting between UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, after which, “taking the Prime Minister up on his promises, Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang traveled from North to South, visiting monks, nuns and followers all over the country” and received an “enthusiastic reception from Buddhists of all different schools”.
“But after that, tragic events took place which culminated in the house arrest of our two leaders (Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Venerable Thich Quang Do) and other senior UBCV monks, forcing us to seriously question the promises made to our Patriarch by the Vietnamese Prime Minister”… “The Foreign Ministry’s statement that our two leaders were arrested because they were carrying “state secrets” is a totally false. Not only is it not based on facts, but it is deliberately aimed at discrediting our leaders. How could the Foreign Ministry, whose job is to represent the Vietnamese people internationally, trump up false evidence against these elderly monks in such a base, uneducated way, with such a disregard of fundamental values and human rights ?”
The Petition calls on the Vietnamese leadership to immediately withdraw “all the “administrative detention” orders delivered formally against Venerables Thich Tue Sy, Thich Thanh Huyen, Thich Nguyen Ly and Thich Dong Tho, and verbally against Venerables Thich Thien Hanh, Thich Thai Hoa, Thich Hai Tang etc… These detention orders are arbitrary. There was no due process of law, no arrest warrant, no investigation, nothing…”.
The Petition concludes by urging the Vietnamese President and Prime Minister to re-examine the case of Thich Huyen Quang, Thich Quang Do and other detained UBCV leaders. “If any evidence is found against them, they should be given a fair and impartial hearing in a court of law, in respect of proper legal standards.” Otherwise, they should be immediately released, it said.
• According to recent information received by I.B.I.B. from UBCV sources in Ho Chi Minh City, thsi situation of Thich Quang Do is extremely alarming. He is detained incommunicado under extremely harsh conditions at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, forbidden all visits and communications with the outside, and he is held virtually a prisoner in his room. One of his disciples who recently tried to visit him found the building completely controlled by underground Security agents. When they asked what he was doing there, he pretended he had simply come to worship Buddha. The Security agents accompanied him to the main prayer hall, stood beside him whilst he prayed, then escorted him out of the premises. UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang is in a similar situation at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh.
Mr. Vo Van Ai, IBIB Director and President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, raised the crack-down against the UBCV at the UN Commission on Human Rights which ended its 60th session on April 23rd in Geneva. He pressed the world’s highest human rights body to use all its influence to obtain the immediate release of UBCV leaders Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do.
(1) Both monks are members of the new UBCV leadership appointed at the Assembly in Nguyen Thieu Monastery (Binh Dinh province) on 1 October 2003, which triggered off a wave of intensified repression against the independent UBCV. On October 8th, Venerable Thich Vien Dinh, head of the Giac Hoa Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, was arrested along with the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, Thich Quang Do and several other UBCV leaders as they returned from the Nguyen Thieu Assembly in a mini-van, and was detained for intensive Police interrogations. Since then, he has been subjected to continuous harassments and restrictions, and is currently maintained under close Police surveillance at his Pagoda.