PARIS, 31 October 2006 (IBIB) – Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), has sent a letter to the Rafto Foundation in Bergen, Norway, to say that he cannot travel to Norway to receive the 2006 Professor Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize, awarded to him for his contribution to the movement for religious freedom, human rights and democracy in Vietnam. He asked the UBCV’s International Spokesman, Vo Van Ai, to accept the Prize on his behalf.
In his letter, Thich Quang Do told Rafto Foundation’s Chairman, Arne Liljedahl Lynngård that he is unable to leave Vietnam because he is under house arrest. Moreover, as Deputy Head of the outlawed UBCV, he is an “illegal citizen”, liable to be arrested at any moment. He added that, even if the Vietnamese authorities allowed him to leave Vietnam, he would not take this risk in case they never let him return. The Vietnamese perceive the UBCV as a “thorn in its side”, and would be relieved if they could force him into exile. “I must be honest, I do not trust the Communist regime”, he said. Vietnam has still not responded to the Norwegian government’s formal request that Thich Quang Do be released and allowed to travel to Norway to receive the Prize.
Thich Quang Do, 77, hoped nevertheless that he would be able to visit Norway one day to thank the Rafto Foundation in person, “when the UBCV’s legitimate status has been restored and all its leaders are free”. The full text of the letter is below :
VIỆN HÓA ÐẠO
Thanh Minh Thiền viện, 90 Trần Huy Liệu, Phường 15, Quận Phú Nhuận, T.P. Hồ Chí Minh
Mr. Arne Liljedahl Lynngård
Chair of the Board of the Rafto Foundation
c/o the International Buddhist Information Bureau, Paris
Dear Mr Chairman,
I am writing to express my deep and sincere thanks for choosing me for the 2006 Professor Thorold Rafto Memorial Prize for human rights defenders. I also apologise for writing so late. The UBCV’s International Spokesman Vo Van Ai told me the news on 23rd September, but at the same time, the Patriarch of our Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, fell seriously ill in Binh Dinh province where he is under house arrest. Since then, I have been very busy arranging for his transfer and hospitalization in Saigon… Although he is still weak and tired, Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang is in good spirits, and his health is much improved.
For me, the Rafto Prize comes completely out of the blue, it is an honour I never expected nor even dreamed of. I was very moved to read your Press Release, forwarded by Vo Van Ai in Paris, which said that the Rafto Foundation had chosen me as a “a symbol for the growing democracy movement” in Vietnam, and that through me, you wished to express “support for all Vietnamese who are fighting for a peaceful transition to democracy”.
As a Buddhist monk, I have no desire to accumulate privileges or titles. But I believe firmly in the movement for democracy in Vietnam, and I have devoted my life to trying to bring Vietnamese of all different religions and political affiliations together to advance this common cause. By honouring me for my role as a “unifying force”, you have recognized the profound motivation of my existence. This is not only an honour, but a source of inspiration and encouragement. You are giving me heart to continue my peaceful struggle, and I will continue it until the end. It means so much to me, and to all Vietnamese human rights defenders and dissidents, to know that the Rafto Foundation exists, that you care about us and are ready to help relay our voice. The Rafto Foundation has given us a precious gift, something that the communist authorities refuse to give our people – the gift of fraternity and mutual understanding. I am deeply moved by your attention, and will treasure it forever in my heart.
Unfortunately, I am also writing to say that I am afraid I will not be able to travel to Norway to accept the award in November. I hope you will understand that this is not a sign of indifference or ingratitude. I would really like to come to Bergen to thank the Rafto Foundation in person for its concern for Vietnam. But my circumstances are difficult. As you know, I am under house arrest – although I have never received any sentence or charge. I am also the second-ranking leader of a banned organization, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). Both these facts make me an illegal citizen in the eyes of the Vietnamese authorities. They can imprison me whenever they want.
It is not impossible that Vietnam will agree to let me travel, giving way to international pressure from your government, or to gain credibility before hosting the APEC Summit in Hanoi this November. But if they let me leave, will they ever let me return ? I do not want to be stranded outside my homeland, unable to help my compatriots in their hour of need. The Vietnamese government looks upon me and the UBCV as a thorn in its side. For the past 31 years, they have tried by every means – trickery, persuasion and force, to stifle the UBCV and prevent us pressing openly for democratic reforms and human rights. If they managed to cut me off from the UBCV movement for human rights and democracy, it would be a great relief for the regime. I cannot take this risk. My place is in Vietnam, alongside my compatriots, I will never abandon them until we win freedom in Vietnam.
I must be honest, I do not trust the Communist regime. In 1968, during the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese communists proposed a cease-fire between the North and South Vietnamese Armies to celebrate the Lunar New Year (Tet). Then they celebrated Tet early, and launched the “Tet Offensive” in South Vietnam during the cease-fire, wreaking unspeakable destruction and suffering. In 1973, they signed the Paris Peace Agreement pledging to refrain from reprisals and work towards national reconciliation. Two years later, their Army invaded Saigon. If the regime can violate its international obligations to world powers, their pledge towards an individual like myself carries little weight. So even if they promised to let me travel, I would not be reassured.
If, however, the Vietnamese government were to make a genuine step forward by re-establishing the legal status of the UBCV and guaranteeing its right to religious freedom before the Rafto Award ceremony in November, and ensuring that I could travel freely to and from Vietnam, then of course I would reconsider my position. In the meantime, I have asked my International Spokesman Vo Van Ai to represent me at the award ceremony and receive the Rafto Prize on my behalf.
Hopefully, one day, when the UBCV’s legal status has been restored and all our leaders are free, I will be able to visit you at the Rafto Foundation in Bergen.
(signature and seal)
Head of the Institute for the Dissemination
of the Faith (Vien Hoa Dao)
Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam
Sramana THICH QUANG DO