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Speaking out in public for the first time in 26 years: Thich Quang Do addresses farmers demonstrating in Ho Chi Minh City against power abuse and state appropriation of lands

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“To solve these problems, we must work together for political pluralism, democracy and human rights, especially freedom of expression. There can be no justice under the one-Party state”

PARIS, 17 July 2007 (IBIB) – At 10am (Vietnam time) this morning, the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, 79, Deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), visited peasants and farmers demonstrating outside the National Assembly office in Ho Chi Minh City to express the UBCV’s support for their peaceful movement.

Thich Quang Do and the UBCV delegation
Thich Quang Do and the UBCV delegation

Thich Quang Do was accompanied by a delegation of UBCV monks including Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, UBCV Commissioner for Social and Humanitarian Affairs, Venerable Thich Minh Nguyet, Head of the UBCV Representative Bord in Tien Giang Province (one of the regions where protests are very strong), Venerables Thich Thien Le, Thich Hue Minh, Thich Giac Ngon, Thich Vien Hy and Thich Dong Minh. Thich Quang Do and the UBCV delegation brought relief aid for the demonstrators raised by UBCV Buddhists at home and abroad. Since 1988, these farmers, known as the “Victims of Injustice” (“dan oan”) have staged countless protests outside public buildings in Saigon and Hanoi to denounce official corruption, State appropriation of lands, and inadequate compensation.

Thich Quang Do addressed the demonstrators
Thich Quang Do addressed the demonstrators

This recent demonstration is one of the most long-running protests. For the past three weeks, in a desperate attempt to seek redressment for their grievances, several hundreds of dispossessed farmers from 19 provinces and 9 districts of Ho Chi Minh City (1) have camped outside the National Assembly office, braving summer temperatures of 32°C (90° F) and frequent rain storms.

Demonstrators listening to Thich Quang Do
Demonstrators listening to Thich Quang Do

Thich Quang Do and the UBCV delegation also donated VND 300 million (approx. US$20,000) in relief aid. The money will be used to assist homeless and hungry demonstrators, and support peasants in the 19 provinces and 9 districts of Ho Chi Minh City where this problem is paticularly rife. This is the second UBCV delegation to visit the demonstrators and bring them aid. Venerable Thich Minh Nguyet from Tien Giang first came with a UBVC delegation on 13 July, and gave a donation of VND13 million. Shocked by Venerable Thich Minh Nguyet’s reports of the tragic situation endured by the peasant farmers, many of whom are women, Thich Quang Do immediately launched an urgent appeal for donation from UBCV Buddhists overseas.

In a telephone call with UBCV International Spokesman Vo Van Ai this afternoon, Thich Quang Do, said that he and the other UBCV monks had left their pagodas seperately this morning in order to avoid Police attention. Large numbers of Security Police, in uniform and in plain-clothes, were on the scene of the demonstration, surrounding the protesters and mingling in their ranks, taking photos and filming with video cameras. “I am very happy that I could visit the demonstrators”, said Thich Quang Do. “I have been hoping to do so for some time, but it is difficult because I am under house arrest. I decided to go today, come what will. I was very happy that I was able to fulfil my wish”.

This is the first time in 26 years of detention and house arrest that prominent dissident Thich Quang Do, a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has addressed a public demonstration. Using a megaphone provided by a demonstrator, Thich Quang Do expressed the UBCV’s solidarity with their problems:

“I have come here today to stand beside you in your hardships, and express the UBCV’s deep concern for the injustice you suffer. Like you, the UBCV is a victim of injustice”, he told the crowd. “We understand your frustration and despair. In 1975, when the Communists took power in Vietnam, the government confiscated all the UBCV’s lands, property, pagodas, schools and universities.For example, Vietnam Quoc Tu Pagoda in Saigon had 11 acres of land.The government confiscated nearly all of it to build a cinema and other places of entertaiment. We have written thousands of letters demanding justice from the government. In thirty years, they have not sent one single reply. If the government had seized our property to build schools, hospitals, or institutions that advance our culture and development, we would not complain. But they have used our land and property to build pleasure parlours, cinemas, places for the rich elite to spend their money, leaving the majority of the population in poverty. It is shameful for Buddhism and shameful for all the people of Vietnam”.

Thich Quang Do told Vo Van Ai that the peasant farmers received him enthusiastically, drowning out his words with cheers and applause. The UBCV was the only organization in Vietnam to dare visit them and publicly express solidarity, they said. Thich Quang Do told the farmers to continue their legitimate protests, but warned that their grievances could not be settled under the one-Party Communist regime:

“One single party cannot possibly represent more that 80 million Vietnamese people. We must have a multi-party system that gives the people wide representation. To solve all these problems and injustices, we must work together for pluralism, democracy and human rights. Freedom of expression is especially important, for without this freedom, how can the people express their grievances and express their opinions to their rulers ?”

“So first of all, we must immediately settle the pressing questions of demanding justice, land rights and compensation for farmers. But after that, we must all work together for human rights, democracy and freedom. Everyone must do his part. We must work together until we succeed in winning democracy, freedom and human rights for all the Vietnamese people. There can be no justice under the one-Party State”.

Thich Quang Do stressed that land appropriation was a widespread and extremely serious phenomenon, one which was creating grave hardships and sufferings to the rural populations. Last year, the UBCV sent money to Buddhists in Hanoi to bring relief aid to farmers and their families protesting in the Mai Xuan Thuong Park. He said that the UBCV would closely monitor the government’s reaction to these protests, and observe their efforts to address complaints. If the government takes no significant action in the coming weeks, said Thich Quang Do, the UBCV will initiate a campaign to support these victims. He noted the possibly of creating an “UBCV Fund for Victims of Injustice” and launching a fund-raising appeal amongst UBCV Buddhists at home and abroad.

(1) Tien Giang, Long An, Ben Tre, Dong Thap, Vinh Long, An Giang, Kien Giang, Bac Lieu, Soc Trang, Tra Vinh, Vinh Long, Binh Duong, Tay Ninh, Binh Phuoc, Lam Dong, Can Tho, Hau Giang, Ca Mau, Binh Thuan. 9 Districts of Ho Chi Minh City are : Go Vap, Binh Chanh, Binh Thanh and Dictricts 4, 5, 6, 7,9 and 12.

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