PARIS, 30 October 2012 (IBIB) – Venerable Thich Thanh Quang, head of the Quang Nam-Danang Provincial Committee of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) received a visit from Ms. Kathleen Peoples, Political Outreach Officer of the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City at the Giac Minh Pagoda in Danang on 25 October 2012. This is the first visit by a U.S. diplomat to the Giac Minh Pagoda, which is the central office of the UBCVs Buddhist Youth Movement (Gia Đình Phật Tử) as well as the head office of the UBCV Quang Nam-Danang Provincial Committee, has been the target of consistent government harassments and repression for several years.
In a report sent to the UBCV and the International Buddhist Information Bureau on 29.20.2012, Thich Thanh Quang said that Ms. Peoples, accompanied by political assistant Pham Anh Vu stayed for almost an hour. She asked many questions about the pagodas activities – was it able to conduct activities normally like other Buddhist pagodas, could it receive financial support and offerings, what access to medical care did the monks and nuns at Giac Minh Pagoda have?, etc..
A Security agent twists Thich Thanh Quangs arm. Photo IBIB – 17 August 2012
Thich Thanh Quang, 75, described the events in August 2012, when he and a member of the Buddhist Youth Movement were brutally beaten by thugs under the eyes of the Police. Giac Minh Pagoda had suffered harassments since 1981, he said, when the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church was created and the independent UBCV was effectively banned. However, repression became significantly more intense after UBCV leader Thich Quang Do launched a series of statements on China in 2007, including protests against Chinese encroachments on the Spratly and Paracel islands, Bauxite mining by Chinese firms and an appeal to boycott Chinese products.
Since then, and particularly over the past two years, the authorities had intensified repression, he said, maintaining round-the clock surveillance on the pagoda, banning the monks from celebrating Buddhist festivals such as the Vesak (Birth of Buddha) or Vu Lan, and preventing Buddhists from entering the pagoda to pray. Young monks from Giac Minh Pagoda who went to study in Saigon were denied residence permits hộ khẩu on their return, and thus became illegal citizens. The Pagoda could not receive donations and offerings because Police threatened Buddhists with reprisals if they showed support for the “reactionary monks”. Police also prohibited doctors from coming to the Pagoda, obliging monks who fell ill to seek treatment outside. Even animals were denied treatment. Thich Thanh Quang said he had a sheep-dog who kept guard on the pagoda. When the dog fell ill, he was too heavy to be carried outside for treatment and Police refused to let the veterinary come inside. “The state says it will take care of everything”, said Thich Thanh Quang, “but the dog died anyway”.
Thich Thanh Quang said that Police surveillance outside Giac Minh Pagoda was lifted on the day of the US diplomats visit for the first time in several years. Nevertheless, he showed Ms. Peoples the office of the civil defence police (dân phòng) just opposite, where plain-clothed officers could be seen behind the windows filming their meeting. He also told IBIB that Police resumed their surveillance immediately after the visit, with 4-5 officers posted permanently outside the Pagodas gates.
Thich Thanh Quang called on Ms. Peoples to urge the US government to support the Vietnamese people in their quest for religious freedom, human rights and democracy, and to press the Vietnamese government to guarantee the rights enshrined in the UN treaties that it has signed. In his report to the UBCV, he also said that he hoped this first visit from a U.S. diplomat was a sign of an increased awareness from the United States on the situation of the repressed UBCV.
Indeed, in August 2012, U.S. Ambassador David Shear visited UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon. On this occasion, Thich Quang Do gave the Ambassador a memorandum in which he criticised the US for underestimating Vietnams repression against the UBCV. He said that State Departments 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom portrayed “but a pale picture of the systematic Police pressures, harassment and intimidation faced by UBCV Buddhists in every aspect of their daily lives”. Ms. Peoples was present at this meeting.