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UBCV Buddhists are banned from celebrating Vesak in Vietnam

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PARIS, 17 May 2006 (IBIB) – Thanks to concerted international pressure for improvements in religious freedom in Vietnam, including as Resolutions in the European Parliament and US Congress, the US State Department’s designation of Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern” and repeated interventions by the United Nations, and following 31 years of campaigns by the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam at home and abroad, this year the Vietnamese government authorised widespread national celebrations for the Vesak, the 2550th year of the Buddhist calendar and 2630th Anniversary of Lord Buddha’s birth. Floral carts paraded the streets of Hanoi for the very first time since the 1954 Geneva Agreement, and in Ho Chi Minh City for the first time since the Communist military victory in 1975.

Mr Vo Van Ai, UBCV international spokesman and Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) welcomed this increase in religious activities, but regretted that celebrations were confined to clergy of the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, whilst UBCV Buddhists remained banned and harassed.

“This year’s Vesak celebrations would have true significance for religious freedom if they were followed by the release of the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy Thich Quang Do. But as the continued detention of these UBCV leaders and the recent harassments of UBCV provincial boards in Khanh Hoa, Bac Lieu, An Giang have shown (cf IBIB Press Release, 12.05.2006 on the harassment of Thich Thien Minh, Thich Chon Tam, Thich Nu Thong Man), Vietnam’s policies are unchanged. The Vesak celebrations are simply window-dressing to delude international opinion and more specifically, to persuade the US State Department to remove Vietnam from the list of “Countries of Particular Concern”.

Mr Ai added that many senior UBCV clergy had applied for permission to organize Vesak celebrations this year, but had met with categorical refusals and increased harassments from communist authorities and Security Police. Venerable Thich Vinh Phuoc, Head of the UBCV Provincial Board in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, sent a letter to his local authorities on 10.05.2006 along with a programme of prayers to celebrate Vesak at Buu Phuoc Pagoda. The local People’s Committee in Xuyen Moc district formally refused (letter 19/CV-UBND/10.5.2006 ), stating that such celebrations would be “totally unlawful” because “the government does not recognise the UBCV”. The provincial State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church Sangha (VBS) in Ba Ria-Vung Tau also sent a letter (10.05.2006/165/CV/BTS) prohibiting Thich Vinh Phuoc from holding Vesak celebrations and called on the local authorities to “seek appropriate measures to sanction Thich Vinh Phuoc and the UBCV provincial board”.

At Giac Hoa Pagoda in Saigon, the Secretariat of the UBCV’s Executive Institute “Vien Hoa Dao”, the authorities cut off the electricity on Vesak Day to prevent the monks celebrating the festival.

Members of several UBCV provincial boards reported that Security Police summoned them repeatedly for interrogations before the Vesak, making it impossible for them to prepare celebrations.

This post is also available in: French Vietnamese

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