GENEVA, July 7 (AFP) – Vietnamese authorities are wrongfully holding the head of an outlawed Buddhist church who has been under house arrest for almost two years, a United Nations human rights body said Thursday.
The UN Working Group of Arbitrary Detention said that the detention of Thich Huyen Quang, as well as his deputy Thich Quang Do, was a breach of an international human rights treaty that Vietnam has ratified.
The two religious leaders have long tussled with Vietnamese authorities over the role of their Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), but the government has rebutted claims of human rights abuses.
“The Working Group requests the government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Thich Quang Do and Thich Huyen Quang and to bring it into conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the ruling said.
The working group’s decision, which was first issued confidentially to Vietnam’s government, was made public by a Paris-based Vietnamese campaign group.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung denied that the two Buddhist priests were in detention.
“As we have reiterated many times, there is absolutely neither detention nor house arrest of Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do,” Dung said in Hanoi.
“At present Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do are living normal lives and practising their religions,” he said.
Thich Huyen Quang, 87, is one of the communist nation’s most prominent dissidents and has made frequent appeals for religious freedom, human rights and democratic reforms.
He and 76-year-old Thich Quang Do have been detained in isolation at a monastery in Binh Dinh since October 2003 amid a crackdown on the newly-elected UBCV leadership.
They were placed under house arrest without trial and accused of being in possession of state secrets and trying to reorganise the church with the help of outside forces.
The UBCV was officially banned in 1981 because it refused to come under the ruling Communist Party’s control.