A key United Nations’ monitoring body, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, has pronounced two of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents, the Patriarch of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) Thich Huyen Quang and his deputy, Venerable Thich Quang Do to be victims of arbitrary detention, held in violation of UN standards because of their religious beliefs. The UN body called on Vietnam to restore their freedom without delay.
The 7-page “Opinion” (see full text on website), (Ref. 18/2005) was adopted at the 42nd Session of the U.N. Working Group in Geneva on 26th May 2005. However, in compliance with UN procedures, it was first sent to the Vietnamese government and remained confidential until today, when a copy was sent to the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), who had alerted the UN Working Group on the detention of Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do following a government crack-down on the UBCV in October 2003.
Mr Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and International Spokesman of the outlawed UBCV declared : “The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s decision confutes Prime MInister Phan Van Khai’s recent declarations in Washington D.C. that “there are no religious prisoners and no religious repression in Vietnam”. But most of all, it is a most welcome recognition of the intolerable conditions endured by UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Venerable Thich Quang Do over so many years. Isolated, denied the right to communicate and deprived of every basic freedom, they have suffered too much for too long. Vietnam should release them immediately, as well as all other citizens detained for the peaceful expression of their political opinions or religious beliefs”.
In its “Opinion”, the UN Working Group overruled the Vietnamese government’s allegations that both Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do were “completely free from any administrative surveillance or detention” and were “practising their religion as usual” respectively at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh and the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon. Listing extensive details on the arrest and detention of the two UBCV leaders, the U.N. Working Group concluded that the men were arrested and detained arbitrarily under conditions that violate all UN standards since they held a peaceful assembly of the UBCV in October 2003, and were placed “under investigation for possessing State secrets”, according to a statement by Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dzung.
Concerning 76-year-old Thich Quang Do, the UN body declared : “Thich Quang Do was placed under administrative detention on 10 October 2003 for an indefinite time, and since then he is committed to a solitary confinement in his room in the monastery, where he is living. He is often locked inside his room for long periods. Security police are stationed inside and outside of the monastery”…
“As a Buddhist priest and one of the leading figures of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Thich Quang Do is obviously restricted in his liberty for his religious belief.”
Regarding the 87-year-old UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, the UN Working Group stated : “Thich Huyen Quang is under permanent detention in the [Nguyen Thieu] monastery without having been notified of any changes against him. He is unable to go in and out and is under permanent surveillance. The administrative authorities have denied him permission to visit Ho Chi Minh City despite repeated requests, and have also taken away the fax machine and the telephone line for international calls”.
“The deprivation of liberty suffered by Thich Huyen Quang is tantamount to house arrest, although no procedures have been respected and no charges of any kind have been laid, in violation of the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”…
It concluded : “On the basis of the above findings the Working Group renders the following opinion :
“The deprivation of liberty of Thich Quang Do (Dang Phuc Thue) and Thich Huyen Quang (Le Dinh Nhan) is arbitrary, being in contravention of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”…
It called on Vietnam to restore the freedom of Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do and bring their situation “into conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights makes regular submissions on human rights violations in Vietnam to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and other UN Special Procedures and treaty bodies.
l The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Vietnam in 1994 to monitor conditions in prisons and re-education camps. In his report to the UN Human Rights Commission, its then Chairman, French expert Mr. Louis Joinet, said he had met many long-term prisoners from the former South Vietnamese military still detained in re-education camp after almost 20 years. He also urged Vietnam to urgently revise its “national security” laws which he esteemed “bore prejudice on the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, thought and belief”. He particularly denounced Article 73 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code (now article 79) on “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s regime”, which makes no distinction between acts of violence – such as terrorism – and peaceful acts of expression or association. This article carries penalties of 12–20 years in prison, life imprisonment or the death penalty. The Working Group also asked to make a follow-up visit, but so far Vietnam has not responded to their request.