PARIS, 3rd September 2007 (IBIB) – According to urgent reports from the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) received today, Vietnam is stepping up repression against UBCV members and implementing a wide range of strategies to divide, undermine and ultimately suppress the outlawed UBCV. Since the UBCV launched its campaign to support dispossessed farmers and peasants known as the “Victims of Injustice” in August, Security Police have intensified threats, harassments, controls, surveillance and interrogations against UBCV members in Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Quang Tri, Tien Giang and other provinces. Give the intensity of this mounting pressure, the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) is deeply concerned that arrests may be imminent. We appeal to the international community, to all Hanoi-based diplomats and international media to be on the alert and closely monitor the situation of the UBCV leadership, particularly Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy Thich Quang Do.
Police Surveillance has been so tight that the UBCV network was unable to relay news immediately to the IBIB in Paris. This report cover events dating from the past few days until now.
l On 29th August, Major-general Tran Tu from the Ministry of Public Security’s Department A41 (in charge of monitoring and controlling religious organizations) came from Hanoi to visit UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery where the 87-year-old Patriarch is under house arrest. He was accompanied by a delegation of security officials, including Che Truong, Head of the Binh Dinh Security Police, Doan Muoi, Head of Dept. PA38 (Dept. of Political Security in charge of rural areas) and several other officials, two of whom took photos and video film of the meeting. Their attitude was menacing, although the 45-minute meeting concluded with a proposal aimed to “win over” the UBCV Patriarch. The main points are as follows:
1) Major-general Tran Tu aggressively denounced UBCV Deputy leader Thich Quang Do’s campaign to launch a “Relief Fund for Victims of Injustice” and distribute aid to farmers and peasants demonstrating in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). He accused the UBCV of “inciting people to demonstrate against the government”. He also charged the UBCV of engaging in “political activities” by calling for pluralism, multi-party democracy and the abrogation of Article 4 of the Constitution on the political monopoly of the Vietnamese Communist Party (1).
2) Announcing that the authorities suspected the UBCV of planning to convene a Congress at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery, he formally prohibited the Patriarch from organizing such an event, which would be perceived as “fomenting rebellion”. Specifically, Tran Tu said that no delegation organized by “Mr. Quang Do” to conspire about holding a UBCV Congress” would be allowed to travel to Binh Dinh. The Patriarch could receive individual visitors, but no delegations, he said. The Head of Binh Dinh Security Police, Che Truong, said no UBCV Congress reminiscent of that in 2003 would ever take place as long as he was in office (2). Perhaps on account of the government’s suspicions, massive Security forces have been posted around Nguyen Thieu Monastery since the “Vu Lan” Festival last week. Police vehicles surround the building and hundreds of security agents keep permanent surveillance outside, intercepting all visitors. Inside the Monastery, plain-clothes security agents mingle with Buddhists and closely monitor all activities. Thich Vien Dinh, Deputy Director of the UBCV’s Executive Institute (Vien Hoa Dao) was arrested as he came to Binh Dinh to attend the Vu Lan Festival. Suspecting him of seeking to meet the UBCV Patriarch and discuss the alleged “UBCV Congress”, Police subjected Thich Vien Dinh to intensive questioning and prohibited him from visiting Nguyen Thieu Monastery.
3) Major-general Tran Tu then invited Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang to attend the upcoming United Nations Day of the Vesak (Anniversary of the Birth of Buddha) which will be hosted with great pomp and ceremony by the Communist government in Hanoi in 2008. Hanoi is using the Vesak celebrations as a propaganda exercise to “prove” that religious freedom is respected in Vietnam. In fact, the event will be organized entirely by the government and the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church, whilst the traditional UBCV remains outlawed and repressed, its leaders stifled and detained. Major-general Tran Tu’s invitation is just a cynical attempt to lure Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang to Hanoi to abuse him and serve government propaganda.
4) Major-general Tran Tu also evoked the 6th Congress of the Vietnam Buddhist Church which takes place in November, and made an offer to Thich Huyen Quang: “Buddha is Buddha, whatever Church you belong to. Please, we invite to you be Head of the Vietnam Buddhist Church”. Once again, this proposal of a “golden cage” for Thich Huyen Quang is another ploy to create an illusion of “Buddhist unity” in order to deflect international criticism of Hanoi’s abysmal record on religious freedom and human rights.
The UBCV Patriarch, who remained silent throughout the meeting, simply replied that he would not go anywhere, being too elderly and weak to travel. Trần Tý immediately offered to put a plane at his disposal, with doctors travelling beside him. One UBCV monk commented wryly: “this is “plane arrest” instead of “Pagoda arrest” – our Patriarch will have his own flying prison cell”.
However, a government official from Binh Dinh, whose identity we will not reveal, told IBIB that if Thich Huyen Quang does not accept this invitation, “the government has a plan to “kidnap” the UBCV Patriarch and forcibly escort him to Hanoi to become Head of the Vietnam Buddhist Church at its 6th Congress in November 2007”.
l Pressure is mounting against UBCV Deputy leader Thich Quang Do, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize nominee and prominent dissident. Security Police summoned him twice for “working sessions” (interrogations) on 28th and 29th August. He refused to present himself. At Giac Hoa Pagoda, Secretariat of the outlawed UBCV, Thich Chon Tâm (UBCV Education Commissioner), Thich Viên Hy and Thich Dong Minh were interrogated by Police in Binh Thanh Ward, Saigon. Police virulently criticized Venerable Thich Quang Do for acting under the name of an “illegal” organization – the UBCV – to bring relief aid to “Victims of Injustice” (i.e. farmers and peasants protesting against State confiscation of their lands, inadequate compensation and official power abuse and corruption). They accused the three monks of conniving with Thich Quang Do to incite farmers and peasants to protest against the State and ordered them to cease all contacts with him. They all refused. The monks report that since August 23rd, when Thich Khong Tanh was arrested in Hanoi, 10-20 Security agents have kept round-the-clock surveillance outside the UBCV Secretariat in Giac Hoa Pagoda, Thanh Minh Zen Monastery and Liên Tri Pagoda (where Thich Quang Do and Thich Khong Tanh reside). Police monitor all visitors, note the number plates of Buddhists’ vehicles and follow them to their homes, threatening reprisals if they visit these Pagodas again.
l In Tien Giang, Phu Yen and Quang Tri provinces, UBCV monks have been subjected to increased threats, controls and harassments. In Tien Giang on 24th August, Security Police convoked local Buddhists to attend “denunciation sessions” in three UBCV pagodas to slander Venerable Thich Minh Nguyệt, Head of the UBCV’s local Representative Board and his colleagues. They accused the monks of illegally supporting “Victims of Injustice”. Police threatened to expel Venerable Thich Minh Nguyêt and replace him with a monk from the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church. Tien Giang is one of the rural areas seriously affected by State confiscations of land. On July 17th, Thich Minh Nguyet joined Thich Quang Do in distributing aid to demonstrators outside the National Assembly’s Southern Office in Saigon and was forcibly escorted back to Tien Giang with 300 Victims of Injustice who had demonstrated for three weeks in the southern capital.
l This intensified repression takes place as the Vietnamese authorities are launching a widespread and well-orchestrated campaign to denigrate and suppress the UBCV. National and local TV and radio, as well as many major newspapers such as Nhân Dân (The People, official Communist Party daily), Quân Doi Nhân Dân (the People’s Army daily), Hanoi Online, Lao Dong (Worker), Thanh Niên (Youth), Công An Nhan Dan (People’s Security) etc. have carried front-page articles accusing Thich Quang Do of being a “gang leader” and “inciting protests” of farmers and peasants in order to oppose the Communist Party. The People’s Army daily described him as a “snake in the grass” and fomenter of anti-government activities.
(1) Trần Tý was referring to the “Declaration” launched by Thich Huyen Quang (20.11.1993) and the “Appeal for Democracy in Vietnam” by Thich Quang Do (21.2.2001) which called for a peaceful process of democratisation, human rights and the rule of law. Both called on Vietnam to repeal Article 4 of the Constitution, thus enabling civil society and members of all religious and political families to contribute on an equal footing to Vietnam’s economic, social, political, cultural and spiritual development.
(2) In October 2003, the UBCV held an Assembly at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in 2003 to appoint a new leadership and decide on actions for the coming year. The authorities arrested all the new leaders as they left the Assembly and sentenced them to administrative detention. Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do were accused of “possessing State Secrets” and placed under house arrest at their Monasteries, respectively in Binh Dinh and Saigon. Although this charge was never proved, they have both been held under effective house arrest since then.