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US State Department Delegation visits Thich Quang Do in Saigon

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PARIS, 9 April 2007 (IBIB) – A delegation from the US State Department, including Mr Eric G. John, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, Mr Seth D. Winnick, U.S. Consul General and members of staff paid a visit to prominent dissident Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon today.

The meeting lasted for two hours (from 8.20am–10.20am Vietnam time) this morning, 9th April 2007. In a phone conversation with IBIB Director Vo Van Ai, Venerable Thich Quang Do said the meeting was very open and positive. He asked IBIB not to reveal all the details of the discussion, but said he had spoken very frankly to the US delegation about the hopes and disappointments of religious and political dissidents regarding US policy in Vietnam.

“I am a Buddhist monk”, he told them, “and Buddha’s teachings exhort us to speak the truth”. Recalling the deep emotion of Vietnamese at President George W. Bush’s 2005 inaugural declaration, when he affirmed that the US would stand by all those who live under tyranny and oppression, Thich Quang Do said that these hopes had been dashed at the APEC Summit in November 2006 when the US President made no mention of democratisation or human rights. “I believe that all people living under tyranny, not just in Vietnam but in North Korea, Burma and elsewhere, shared this disappointment in the USA”, said Thich Quang Do, 78, who is a 2007 Nobel Peace prize nominee.

For the past year, Hanoi had tolerated the emergence of democratic voices in order to obtain removal from the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs), membership of the World Trade Organization and PNTR trading status with the USA. Having obtained all its goals, the Communist regime was now bent on stifling democratic voices once and for all. The US should not stand by and allow Hanoi to act with impunity, he said.

“In the wake of Hanoi’s ruthless crackdown on democracy movements today, it is the moment for President Bush to take a firm stand for religious freedom, human rights and democracy in Vietnam”. He also called on the US Congress to adopt measures to support a democratic process in Vietnam. The US should link economic relations with human rights, and use trade and aid as a leverage to press Hanoi to respect its binding international commitments.

Thich Quang Do stressed that recent US policies had reaffirmed his own conviction that Vietnamese must take their destiny into their own hands. Democracy is not a gift that can be given from the outside. The democratic process must come from within, driven by the determination of Vietnamese democrats, religious movements and human rights defenders from all walks of life. Nevertheless, the support of the international community, and particularly the United States, was vitally needed to prevent Hanoi from suppressing all voices for democratic reform, he said.

He also dismissed the theory of an internal struggle within the Communist Party leadership between so-called “hard-liners” (pro-Chinese) and “reformists” (pro-Westerners) as a “smokescreen” aimed to delude international opinion. One of the first declarations by so-called “reformist” Premier Nguyen Tan Dung, he recalled, was to reject all notion of a free press, stating that the CPV would tolerate no independent publications in Vietnam.

Thich Quang Do told the delegation that, at the same time Hanoi had showed leniency towards some democratic activists for its own political ends, it had pursued a systematic and ruthless policy of repression against the outlawed UBCV. He cited the systematic harassments, intimidation, assaults and surveillance of members of 20 UBCV provincial representative boards set up to help poor people in the Central and Southern provinces, and the arbitrary detention under house arrest, without any due process of law, of the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and himself. “We are both prisoners within our own Monasteries, deprived of all basic freedoms and rights”. This policy of religious repression was not only targeted against the outlawed UBCV, he said. Other non-recognized religious bodies such as the ethnic Christian Montagnards, the Protestants and the Hoa Hao suffer similar repression today.

However, Thich Quang Do told the US delegation that he remained optimistic. “Buddhism teaches us that all things are impermanent. Nothing lasts forever. Vietnam’s Communist regime is no exception to this natural rule. The day will come when democracy and freedom will flourish in Vietnam.”

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