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Threats and restrictions on UBCV Vesak celebrations – Buddhists in Hue prepare non-violent resistance

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PARIS, 3 May 2012 (IBIB) – Senior monks from the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) have reported increasing threats and pressure by Security Police and local authorities in the central provinces of Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Nam-Danang, Phu Yen and Binh Thuan to ban the UBCV from organizing celebrations of the Vesak (Birth of Buddha) which takes place on 5 May 2012.

On April 29th and 30th respectively, Venerable Thich Thanh Quang, Secretary-general of the UBCV’s Executive Institute (Vien Hoa Dao) and Venerable Thich Thien Hanh, Head of the UBCV’s Vesak Day Organizing Committee and Head of the UBCV Provincial Committee in Thua Thien-Hue sent urgent reports to UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do describing rising tension between the authorities and the UBCV and citing widespread incidents of harassments, threats and restrictions by Security Police and local authorities on UBCV activities ver the past few days:

In Thua Thien-Hue:

Whereas the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church (VBC) is organizing massive 2012 Vesak Day celebrations in collaboration with the local People’s Committee in the city of Hue and the adjacent villages of Huong Tra and Huong Thuy in the framework of “National Tourist Year” to demonstrate that “Vietnam respects religious freedom”, the UBCV has been banned from holding public celebrations under the UBCV’s name. This year, in order to celebrate Vesak and also to mark the 37th year of repression against the UBCV since the Communist Party took power in 1975, the UBCV in Hue is planning a large ceremony at the Quoc An Pagoda. For this event, the UBCV has designed a logo which will be displayed on the altars of all UBCV Pagodas during the Vesak. The logo, which shows a globe surrounded by the words “Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam” is aimed to symbolize the international outreach of the UBCV, which has members in 80 countries all over the world. All Pagodas belonging to the UBCV in Thua Thien-Hue, including Long Quang, Kim Quang, Phuoc Thanh, Phuoc Hai, Bao Quang and Tho Duc will display the same logo on altars set up for their own congregations.

Since the authorities found out about this logo, Police have systematically contacted all the artists commissioned by the UBCV to reproduce it and forced them to sign statements promising to stop work at once or face heavy fines. Despite Police threats, seven logos have been made. However, as Buddhists set up altars for the Vesak on 26.4.2012, large groups of Security Police aggressively broke into the pagodas, harassing followers and ordering monks to immediately dismantle the logos and anything else bearing the words “Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam”, on the grounds that the UBCV is “an illegal organization”.

Also on 26.4.2012, the Vinh Ninh People’s Committee summoned UBCV monk Thich Dieu Tanh, Superior monk of the Quoc An Pagoda for interrogations. He refused to go, but sent Thich Minh Chon in his place. Officials and Security Police strictly forbade the monk from allowing any “unlawful” UBCV signs or banners at the Vesak Day celebrations this week-end. On the same day, five officials from the State Religious Police, the People’s Committee and other government organs visited Tho Duc Pagoda in Thuy Xuan district. They drew up an indictment accusing its Abbot Thich Chon Phuong of setting up an altar bearing the words UBCV, and ordered him to take down the altar immediately. Thich Chon Phuong refused to sign the indictment. Thich Chon Niem, Superior monk of Bao Quang Pagoda was subjected to similar threats by Police and local officials on the same day. On 28.4.2012, local authorities drew up a statement against Thich Chi Thang, Superior monk of Phuoc Hai Pagoda, ordering him to dismantle the Vesak altar within two days (before 30 April) otherwise Police would forcibly tear it down. Thich Minh Sieu, the Pagoda’s Abbot, refused to sign the Police statement.

Faced with growing repression in the run-up to the Vesak, Thich Thien Hanh called a meeting of the UBCV Vesak Organizing Committee at the Quoc An Pagoda on 29.4.2012. The monks took the following decision to defend the sacred commemoration of Vesak, which Buddhists in Vietnam have celebrated for the past 2,000 years:

1) To resolutely refuse to sign any indictments drawn up by the local authorities and disregard all orders to dismantle altars or ban Vesak celebrations; refuse to recognize the legitimacy of local authorities to issue orders on UBCV activities. The UBCV is a nation-wide and international organization. Any ban on the UBCV must come from central government before it can be taken into consideration by the UBCV leadership;

2) If the Thua Thien-Hue local authorities persist with harassments and restrictions during the Vesak, to call on UBCV monks, nuns and followers to oppose repression by non-violent resistance, staging sit-in demonstrations and prayers;

3) If the authorities use force to suppress Vesak celebrations in individual UBCV Pagodas, to call on all monks, nuns and lay-followers to gather in the Quoc An Pagoda at 6.00am on Vesak Day (5.5.2012) to celebrate the Vesak together, bringing along all the banned logos and banners bearing the name of the UBCV. After the prayer ceremony, the logos will be burned in offering to Lord Buddha. Any Buddhists who are intercepted by Police on their way to Quoc An Pagoda should stage a sit-in demonstration on the spot, recite prayers and oppose peaceful resistance to the government’s religious discrimination policies and gross violations of the right of freedom of belief of Buddhists and all citizens of Vietnam.

In Quang Nam-Danang:

Security Police continue to surround Giac Minh Pagoda, headquarters of the UBCV provincial Committee and the UBCV Buddhist Youth Movement, filming all those who approach the pagoda and preventing Buddhists from entering (see IBIB Press release, 28 April 2012). On 28.4.2012, the local People’s Committee in Binh Hien (Danang) invited Thich Thanh Quang and the community of monks and nuns at Giac Minh Pagoda to attend a public “denunciation session” before a crowd of local people. Thich Thanh Quang refused to attend, but sent a younger monk, Thich Dong Lai in his place. Thich Dong Lai reported that local Party officials and religious police incited people to denounce Giac Minh Pagoda for its “reactionary” activities and membership of the outlawed UBCV. On 3 May 2012, Thich Thong Lai was again summed for questioning by the local Police.

In Phu Yen Province:

Venerable Thich Giac Hieu, head of the UBCV’s Phu Yen Provincial Committee reports that many monks and nuns, as well as members of the UBCV Buddhist Youth Movement, have been summoned by the local authorities for ‘working sessions” (Police interrogations) over the past few days and warned of “serious consequences” if they attempted to attend UBCV Vesak celebrations in Phu Yen this week-end.

In Binh Thuan Province:

Venerable Thich Thong Hai, Binh Thuan UBCV Youth Commissioner has been repeatedly summoned to the People’s Committee headquarters for interrogations. The local authorities have threatened to take “preventive measures” if he attempts to organize Vesak celebrations in Binh Thuan (see IBIB Press Release 28.4.2012).

Members of the 20 UBCV Provincial Committees all over the central and southern provinces report similar harassments, threats and restrictions over the past weeks.

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