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Statement by Vo Van Ai, UBCV International Spokesman, on the visit of Thich Nhat Hanh and the International Delegation of Plum Village to Vietnam

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PARIS, 20 February 2007 (IBIB) – I feel shocked that Thich Nhat Hanh and over a hundred members of the International Delegation of Plum Village are allowed to travel freely to Vietnam, organize public events and preach openly throughout the country, whilst at the same time, leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (the UBCV) are under house arrest, deprived of all freedoms and forbidden to preach. Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 87, who has spent over 25 years in detention, is not even allowed to leave his Monastery in Binh Dinh to go to Saigon for important medical treatment. Thich Quang Do, 77, who has also been detained for over two decades, was awarded the Rafto Human Rights Prize in November 2006, but was not allowed to travel to Norway to receive the award. Just last week, Vietnam refused a visa to the Rafto Foundation’s Chairman, Arne Liljedahl Lynngård, who asked to visit Vietnam to hand Thich Quang Do the award in person and meet Vietnamese government officials in a spirit of dialogue. The authorities said he was “not welcome” in Vietnam. I believe Thich Nhat Hanh’s trip is manipulated by the Hanoi government to hide its repression of the UBCV and create a false impression of religious freedom in Vietnam.

I am also perplexed by the Grand Requiem Masses that Thich Nhat Hanh intends to hold in Soc Son, Hue and Saigon. He is calling on Communists to read out passages from Marxist-Leninist works, and Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Hoa Hao and Cao Dai to recite prayers together for all those who have unjustly died. I cannot see how religion and Marxism-Leninism can be reconciled. The great religions have different approaches, but they all share a common basis of compassion and love. Marxism, on the contrary, is based on hatred, conflict and the class struggle. In fact, Marxism-Leninism, and the advent of Communism in Vietnam are the root causes of the deaths of millions of Vietnamese – the very people that Thich Nhat Hanh is asking us to pray for today. I think of all those who were buried alive during the murderous Land Reforms in North Vietnam, those massacred and buried collectively during the 1968 Tet Offensive, especially in Hue, all those who were executed or died under torture, of hunger or exhaustion in the Re-education Camps, or the boat people who perished in their flight for freedom… Can the families of these people stand by and listen to passages from Marxism-Leninism, and accept that these Grand Requiems be presided by top officials of the Communist regime ?

I think it is time to think about the living, not only the dead. Thich Nhat Hanh could use his authority to call for the release of all Vietnamese who are in prison or under house arrest for their peaceful religious or political beliefs. He could speak out for the “Victims of Injustice”, the homeless women and farmers who gather every day in Mai Xuan Thuong Park in Hanoi because their lands have been confiscated by the State. He could ask that all Vietnamese enjoy the same freedom of movement, expression and belief that he and his delegation will enjoy during their visit to Vietnam. Compassion for the dead should begin with justice for the living. Thich Nhat Hanh should look beyond the 2-million privileged members of the Communist Party, and heed the 80 million people who are deprived of human rights and democratic freedoms in Vietnam.

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