Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has sent a message of solidarity to the Hoa Hao Buddhist sect (1) following the self-immolation of two of its members in a protest against religious persecution. According to Hoa Hao sources in Vietnam, at least 7 Hoa Hao followers were arrested in the wake of these protests on August 5th in the provinces of An Giang and Dong Thap (2).
In his message, sent via the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau from the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon where he is held under house arrest, Thich Quang Do expressed his “deep emotion” at the news that two Hoa Hao followers had “immolated themselves for religious freedom, and many others had been placed under arrest… On behalf of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, I convey my sincere condolences and regards to their families and to the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church”.
Thich Quang Do said he did not encourage self-immolation, describing it as a “terrible, heart-rending act, one that no one ever wants to see happen. Human life is the most precious of all things, and I personally have never wished for such acts to take place”. He said, however, that “in the current climate of repression and coercion”, where the government “does not yet recognize its citizen’s fundamental rights, nor respect the freedoms enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, he respected the painful choice made by these Hoa Hao followers as an expression of their aspirations for freedom. “In some cases”, he said, “death is used to enflame hatred and discrimination. In other cases, it is devoted to the celebration and preservation of life”.
Thich Quang Do noted that 20 members of the banned UBCV had immolated themselves to pray for religious freedom since Vietnam was re-united under Communist rule in April 1975.
In his Message, the 77-year-old UBCV Deputy leader also launched an appeal to the Vietnamese leadership to cease repression against all non-recognized, independent religious movements, and to re-establish their legitimate status and full freedom of religious activities. He urged Vietnam to “restore freedom of religion and belief to all the different denominations and thus put an end to the unabated sufferings and repression that have been inflicted upon the majority of religious followers in Vietnam”.
(1) The Hoa Hao is an indigenous Vietnamese sect, founded by Huynh Phu So in 1939 in the southern province of An Giang. It is considered by many of its followers as a form of “reformed” Buddhism. In 1947, the prophet Huynh Phu So, whom his followers believed to be immortal, was murdered by the Viet Minh (Vietnamese Communists). After 1975, the Hoa Hao sect was banned. In 1999, the government created a State-sponsored “Committee of Hoa Hao Representatives” made up almost entirely of Communist Party members. All other Hoa Hao movements remain illegal. There are approximately 3 million Hoa Hao followers, based mostly around the Mekong Delta.
(2) According to Hoa Hao sources, the victims include Tran Van Ut, 37, self-immolated on 5.8.2005 in Dong Thap province; Vo Van Buu, 34, self-immolated in An Giang Province (he is known to have suffered very severe burns, but reports vary as to whether or not he has survived). Those arrested include Nguyen Van Dien, 34 ; Ms Mai Thi Dung, 34; Nguyen Tan Phong, 30, Vo Van Bân, 14 and Vo Thi Hanh, 12 (children of Vo Van Buu) ; Nguyen Thanh Son, 74; Phan Thi Tiem ; Vo Van Thanh Liem, 67.