The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) has received urgent information from the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) that UBCV Buddhist monk Thich Vien Phuong was arrested in Saigon by Security Police today (Wednesday 30th March 30th) at 5.30 pm Vietnam time. Security Police arrested him on his motorbike at the Phu Nhuan crossroads, at the intersection of Phan Dang Luu, Hoang Van Thu, Phan Dinh Phung and Nguyen Kiem streets. Thich Vien Phuong had just left the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, where he had visited the UBCV’s Deputy leader and prominent dissident Thich Quang Do.
According to eyewitnesses, Security Police arrested Thich Vien Phuong on the pretext that his dilapidated Honda had no wing mirror. A number of passers-by protested this action, arguing that Police might fine the monk, but they had no right to arrest him for such a minor offence. A crowd began to gather, and someone suggested to Thich Vien Phuong that he take a cab and go home. He hailed a motorcycle taxi (xe om) and set off towards the Giac Hoa Pagoda, where he currently lives. However, Police intercepted the motorcycle and dragged him into a taxi. Thich Vien Phuong has not been heard of since. Venerable Thich Vien Dinh, Superior monk at Giac Hoa Pagoda told IBIB that he had called the local police in Binh Thanh Ward, but they knew nothing about the arrest. At 9.00 pm Vietnam time, the monks at Giac Hoa pagoda still had no news of Thich Vien Phuong’s whereabouts.
IBIB Director Vo Van Ai declared : “This virtual kidnapping of a peaceful Buddhist monk in broad daylight shows Vietnam’s total contempt for its citizens rights, and its double standards in regards to international human rights obligations. Whilst its diplomats attend the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, its Police arrest law-abiding citizens on the streets of Saigon without any justification. Vietnam extols religious freedom in its speeches, but in its actions, as this recent incident proves, it blatantly violates the rights and freedoms of religious followers”.
The arrest of Thich Vien Phuong takes place at a time when Vietnam is under scrutiny for its religious freedom violations. In September 2004, the United States blacklisted Vietnam as “country of particular concern” for religious freedom abuses. The US has given Vietnam a delay to prove that it has made concrete improvements, otherwise it could impose a range of measures, including economic sanctions, on Vietnam.
– Following the announcement by UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 87, that he would not receive France-based Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village delegation when they come to Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh today (see IBIB Press Release, 25.3.2005), IBIB is informed that Security Police, local communist party and religious officials have made several visits to Nguyen Thieu Monastery to press Thich Huyen Quang to receive Thich Nhat Hanh on Thursday, 31st March. Thich Nhat Hanh is on a 3-month speaking tour sponsored by the Vietnamese government and the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church, and it would enhance the government’s “religious freedom” image if he was received by the prominent UBCV leader. Thich Huyen Quang refused to meet these officials and remained adamant that he will not receive Thich Nhat Hanh. Since Monday 28th March, the UBCV Patriarch has gone into retreat, to meditate in seclusion. Monks put a sign upon his door forbidding entry to his room during his retreat. Immediately, Security Police tore the sign down. Thich Huyen Quang put up a new sign, with his own handwriting and seal. So far, the Police have not attempted to remove it, but it is clear that tensions are rising between the authorities and the monks at Nguyen Thieu.