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UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang refuses Public Security Ministry “summons” to attend State-sponsored Buddhist Congress in Hanoi

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Thich Thien Hanh deplores repression against Buddhist Youth Movement in Hue – Thich Thien Tam demands immediate withdrawal from 2008 UN Vesak Day Organising Committee

PARIS, 13th December 2007 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau is informed that UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang has rejected an invitation from the Ministry of Public Security to attend the “6th Nation-wide Congress of Buddhist Representatives for 2007-2012” (i.e. the 6th Congress of the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church, set up under Communist Party control in 1981) that opens in Hanoi today (13.12.2007).

UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang in Binh Dinh, December 2007
UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang in Binh Dinh, December 2007

Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang refused the invitation for two reasons. Firstly, since it was delivered by the Ministry of Public Security, it seemed more like a Police summons than an invitation to a religious event. Secondly, the Congress concerns only members of the State-sponsored Buddhist Church and not the UBCV, which remains outlawed and repressed by the Communist authorities today.

The invitation was delivered to the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh, where the UBCV Patriarch is under house arrest, by a delegation of local Security officials led by Doan Muoi, Head of the Binh Dinh Department PA38 (i.e. the Communist Party’s political department in charge of rural security) on 6.12.2007. They said that they were acting on orders of top Hanoi Security official Major-general Tran Tu, Head of the Ministry of Public Security’s Department A41 which monitors religious organizations and religious security affairs.

Although the invitation was signed by Thich Tri Tinh, Chairman of the State-sponsored VBC’s Executive Committee, it was issued on the orders of the Ministry of Public Security and addressed simply to “Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang”, with no mention of his title of Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.

Thich Huyen Quang, who is currently in poor health, asked his assistants Thich Dong Tho and Thich Minh Tuan to receive the delegation. The Security officials handed them the invitation and conveyed Tran Tu’s desire “to invite Thich Huyen Quang to come to Hanoi for the VBC Congress, and at the same occasion to meet with the Prime Minister and receive proper medical treatment”. Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang told the monks he would never accept an invitation on such terms.

This is not the first time this year that the UBCV Patriarch has been approached by Tran Tu and other top Security officials, each of them advancing a mixture of enticements and threats. On 29 August 2007, Tran Tu travelled from Hanoi to warn the UBCV Patriarch of Hanoi’s strong disapproval of the actions of UBCV Deputy leader, Most Venerable Thich Quang Do in support of farmers and peasants protesting against State seizure of lands, known as the “Victims of Injustice” . He accused Thich Quang Do of “inciting people to demonstrate against the government”. He also warned Thich Huyen Quang against holding any UBCV Congress at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery, threatening that such actions would be perceived as “fomenting rebellion”. Yet Tran Tu concluded by inviting Thich Huyen Quang to accept the appointment of Head of the [State-sponsored] Vietnam Buddhist Church at its 6th Congress in Hanoi, and attend the International Vesak celebrations in May 2008.

In fact, UBCV leaders throughout the country perceive these invitations as a cynical attempt to lure Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang to Hanoi to serve government propaganda. Hanoi is using the 2008 Vesak celebrations to “prove” to international opinion that religious freedom is respected in Vietnam. By offering Thich Huyen Quang the leadership of the State-sponsored VBC, Hanoi is merely offering him a golden cage to create an illusion of “Buddhist unity” and deflect international criticism of Hanoi’s abysmal record on religious freedom and human rights.

l Thich Thien Hanh protests repression against Buddhist Youth leaders in Hue:

Senior UBCV official Thich Thien Hanh, Secretary general of the UBCV Institute of the Sangha and Head of the UBCV Provincial Board in the central city of Hue has sent a strong letter of protest to the Chairman of the Hue Provincial People’s Committee denouncing intensified repression by the Communist authorities against the Buddhist Youth Movement (BYM – Gia dinh Phat tu), an educational movement affiliated to the outlawed UBCV which has 500,000 members in Vietnam.

Thich Thien Hanh protests against insidious tactics used to harass and pressure Buddhist youth leaders to abandon the BYM. He cites the cases of Buddhist Youth leaders Ho Dac Thich and Mai Tien Son, both arrested by Security Police in Phuong Vy district, Hue, and subjected to intensive interrogations, respectively on 28-29 November and 4, 5 and 7th December; Tran Ngoc An in Phuoc Vinh district; Le Quang Bong in Tay Loc district and Truong Trong Thao in Huong Phong village, all subjected to similar harassments and interrogations. Thich Thien Hanh particularly denounces the inhuman methods used by the Communist authorities to play on weaknesses or illness in their families to force the youth leaders to resign. Ho Dac Thinh’s wife suffers from a serious heart condition, whereas both Mai Tien Son and Tran Ngoc An have parents of 80-90 years old. Police threaten to arrest the youth leaders and bring “criminal sanctions” against them, thus causing great distress to their families. Police press their families to plead with the youth leaders to cease their activities and renounce the BYM.

In his letter to the Communist authorities, Thich Thien Hanh stressed that these methods of blackmail and repression would never succeed in suppressing Buddhism in Vietnam: “Despite three decades of devastating repression, bloodshed and sacrifice, the UBCV continues to survive, and continues to serve Buddhism and the Vietnamese people. As you can see, countless Buddhists all over the country remain faithful to our cause. They are ready to face any challenges to continue speaking the truth. Today, you are using despicable methods to force Buddhist youth leaders to act against their consciences. Are you not ashamed of yourselves?” He called on the government to cease harassment of members of the Buddhist Youth Movement, and re-establish the legal status of the outlawed UBCV.

l 2008 UN Vesak Day International Organising Committee in Hanoi abusively lists name of UBCV dignitary Thich Thien Tam:

On the International Organising Committee (IOC) of the 2008 United Nations Vesak Day (Birth of Buddha) which has just been made public on the official website, Buddhists at home and abroad were deeply disturbed to see the name of UBCV dignitary Thich Thien Tam, Head of the Canadian Overseas UBCV’s Advisory Board Secretariat and Commissioner for Canadian Affairs of the new Overseas UBCV Office. In fact, Venerable Thich Thien Tam has never been invited to be an IOC member, nor informed that his name was being used. In a letter to Professor Le Manh That, Chairman of the 2008 Vesak IOC in Hanoi, Thich Thien Tam denounced the abuse of his name as a “dubious and unlawful move to create confusion and divisions within the Buddhist community in Vietnam and overseas”. He demanded that his name be immediately withdrawn. Thich Thien Tam deplored that the 2008 UN Vesak Day would be organised by the Communist authorities and the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church not to truly commemorate Lord Buddha’s Birth, but to parade an illusory “religious freedom” for international public opinion, whilst continuing to ruthlessly muzzle and repress the independent UBCV.

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