PARIS, 16 May 2009 (IBIB) – A delegation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) visited Patriarch Thich Quang Do of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam today (Saturday 16 May) at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon. The delegation included USCIRF Vice-Chairman Michael Cromartie, David Dettoni, Director of Operations and Outreach, Dr. Scott Flipse, Senior Policy Analyst, and Jane Bocklage, Second Secretary of the US Embassy in Hanoi. The USCIRF, an independent body that advises the US Congress and Administration, is currently in Vietnam to examine the religious freedom situation. In its annual report this month, the USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be re-designated as one of the world’s worst religious freedom violators or “Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for “continuing systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom and other human rights”.
UBCV leader Thich Quang Do, speaking by phone today to Vo Van Ai, the UBCV’s overseas spokesman, said the visit lasted from 10.30 am until 12.00, and had been very positive. Large numbers of Security Police remained outside the Monastery throughout the meeting, but did not intervene.
The delegation asked about the current situation of the UBCV, which has been a target of government repression since it was outlawed by the Communist authorities in 1981 and supplanted by the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church. Thich Quang Do told the USCIRF that there were was no improvement regarding the outlawed UBCV. Indeed, repression had become increasingly sophisticated. This month, during the Vesak Festival (Birth of Buddha), Security Police systematically visited Buddhist households, especially in Hue, Danang and areas where support for the UBCV is strong. They threatened and intimidated Buddhists, warning that they would lose their jobs and their children be expelled from school if they continue to frequent “reactionary” UBCV pagodas. “UBCV Buddhists live in a constant climate of fear”, said Thich Quang Do. By creating a State-sponsored Buddhist organization, Vietnam’s long-term aim was to turn Buddhist monks into Communist Party cadres, and ultimately suppress the independent UBCV. “We have no hope for change under the Communist regime. Only radical political change can bring religious freedom and human rights to Vietnam”.
Thich Quang Do particularly asked the USCIRF to convey the UBCV’s thanks for the US statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodic Review of Vietnam in Geneva last week. “The USA was the only country to specifically call on Vietnam to recognize the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam during the UPR. This was a very timely and welcome proposal”.
The USCIRF asked Thich Quang Do about the UBCV’s recent appeal for a month of civil disobedience and demonstrations at home in May to protest against government plans to mine Bauxite in the Central Highlands, and how this issue related to religious freedom? “The Central Highlands is like the roof of our three countries, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Whoever controls this roof controls our countries”, Thich Quang Do said, noting that tens of thousands of Chinese workers and advisers are being brought into the area. He reminded the delegation that the South Vietnamese army’s withdrawal from the Central Highlands in 1975 had enabled North Vietnamese troops to rapidly invade the country. “If we allow the Chinese to settle in this strategic area, we risk becoming a nation of slaves. If we lose our country, then we lose our freedom. Without freedom, religions cannot survive. This is why the UBCV must take a stand”.