PARIS, 6 August 2015 (IBIB) – Mr. Tom Malinowski, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, visited prominent dissident and Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Thich Quang Do at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City where the UBCV Patriarch is under effective house arrest. He was accompanied by US Consul General Ms. Rena Bitter, Special Assistant to Mr. Malinowski Rodney Hunter and Charles Sellers, Political Section Chief at the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.
The meeting took place on Wednesday morning (5 August) and lasted for over an hour. UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do told IBIB Director Vo Van Ai that the meeting was very open and cordial. He asked IBIB not to reveal all the details of the discussion, but said he had expressed his concerns to the US Assistant Secretary of State on a wide range of issues including religious freedom, development, human rights and democratization in Vietnam.
Patriarch Thich Quang Do, 87, informed Mr. Malinowski of the governments systematic repression against the UBCV over the past 40 years, with the harassment, intimidation, assaults and surveillance of monks, nuns and lay-followers. He also described his own situation, confined under house arrest without charge at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery since 2003 under the permanent surveillance of “not-so-secret Police”, and deprived of the right to travel and communicate freely.
In his remarks to Mr. Malinowski, Patriarch Thich Quang Do said Vietnam repressed the UBCV because it was afraid of anything it could not control. But this policy was bound to fail, he said, for “Buddhism has been in Vietnam for the past 2,000 years. It is part of the peoples psyche, their culture, their very identity. Buddhism was there before this regime came to power and it will still be there when it has gone.”
Hanoi should not be afraid, said Thich Quang Do, but rather “embrace pluralism without fear. Diversity is a treasure, not a threat”. The UBCV is not Vietnams enemy, he said: “We love our country (…) if we speak out for freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association, it is not because we are “hostile forces” trying to undermine the regime, but because we believe that human rights are the tools with which we can build a prosperous and caring society, based on mutual respect and the rule of law. We believe that everyone should have the right to participate in shaping their own destiny and determining their countrys future.”
Whilst welcoming strengthened relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, he urged Mr. Malinowski to ensure that the United States maintained human rights as the cornerstone of this relationship. “This gives you real leverage to help Vietnam embark on the road to reform. Many countries merely pay lip-service to human rights in order to do “business as usual” with the communist regime. I trust and believe that the United States will not follow this path”.
Lê Công Cầu, head of the Buddhist Youth Movement and Secretary-general of the UBCVs Executive Institute Viện Hòa Đạo was invited by Thich Quang Do to join the meeting. However, as Lê Công Cầu prepared to leave his home in Huế on 4 August, he was intercepted by Security Police and placed under house arrest. Police prohibited him from travelling to Saigon, stating specifically that he must not participate in the meeting with the US delegation. They said he would be released when Mr. Malinowski had left Vietnam. Lê Công Cầu wrote a letter to US Ambassador Ted Osius in Hanoi, calling on the U.S. to protest this mistreatment and monitor the situation of the outlawed UBCV.