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Vietnam denies Rafto Foundation Chairman permission to visit Vietnam

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Arne Liljedahl Lynngård
Mr. Arne Liljedahl Lynngård, Chairman of the Rafto Foundation in Bergen, Norway, has informed the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights that the Vietnamese authorities have refused his request for a visa to visit Vietnam. On February 7, 2007, he received a letter from the Vietnamese Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, informing him that a long-planned visit to Saigon to meet Vietnam’s leading dissident, Venerable Thich Quang Do, is not possible. The letter accused the Rafto Foundation of harming good relationships between Norway and Vietnam.

In November 2006, the Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, was awarded the Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for human rights defenders. Four former Rafto laureates, Aung San Suu Kyi, Kim Dae Dung, Jose Ramos Horta and Shirin Ebadi went on to win the Nobel Peace prize. Since 1998, the Venerable Quang Do has been under “pagoda arrest”, confined to his monastery in Saigon.

Mr. Arne Lynngård was planning to travel to Vietnam in the beginning of March 2007 to visit Vietnam’s leading dissident in his pagoda and to hand over the Rafto award to him. However, the Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Denmark informed Mr. Lynngård that he is not welcome in the country.

In a telephone conversation with the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights today, Mr. Lynngård said he was “very sad” that Vietnam had made this decision, which “will harm Vietnam more than it will harm me”. Thich Quang was not a “violator of Vietnamese laws”, as the Vietnamese Embassy charged, but “a man of peace”, respected by the international community. “Any country should be proud to have a person such as Thich Quang Do”, he said. In a Press release issued today, the Rafto Foundation opposed the Vietnamese government’s decision and accusations for the following reasons :

“1. There is an ongoing human rights dialogue between the governments of Norway and Vietnam. The Rafto Foundation made an official request to visit Vietnam in a spirit of dialogue, not only to hand the Rafto award to Venerable Thich Quang Do, but to meet officials and learn about Vietnam’s democratic reforms aimed to build a state that is governed by law and committed to democracy, promised last year by prime minister of Vietnam, Mr. Nguyen Tan Dung.

“- How can Vietnam expect the international community to learn about the progress happening inside the country if such visits from international persons are denied? The Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Denmark says the Rafto Foundation’s attitude is “contrary to the reality in Vietnam” – so why don’t they let me see this reality for myself, says Mr. Arne Liljedahl Lynngård.

“2. Thich Quang Do is not a violator of Vietnamese laws, as claimed in the official letter, but an internationally recognized personality, respected worldwide for his non-violent efforts to promote peace, democracy and human rights in Vietnam. In 1995 Venerable Quang Do was sentenced to 5 years re-education camp at an unfair trial in Saigon on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the State” for sending a critical essay to the Communist Party leadership and organizing a Relief Mission for flood victims in 1994. The Rafto Foundation was therefore totally justified in awarding the Prize to such a person, and was by no way harming good relationships between Norway and Vietnam.

“On September 29, 2006, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre commented from New York Rafto’s decision to give Thich Quang Do the Award : “This prestigious prize has previously been awarded to active human rights campaigners such as Rebiya Kadeer, Aung San Suu Kyi and Shirin Ebadi. I am delighted at the committee’s decision to award this year’s prize to Thich Quang Do.”

“3. Venerable Thich Quang Do has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize many times. Nobel Peace prize laureates such as the Dalai Lama, José Ramos-Horta, Mairead Corrigan Maguire have repeatedly called for Thich Quang Do’s release, as well as the United Nations, and many Resolutions in this sense have been adopted by the European Parliament, the US Congress and national parliaments worldwide.

“- According to Hanoi, Thich Quang Do is currently “totally free”, he is therefore officially subject to no restrictions under Vietnamese law, and should be entitled to receive visits, Mr. Lynngård ends.

The Rafto Foundation is now calling upon the Norwegian Government to take a position on this affair and to raise the issue in the ongoing human rights dialogue between the governments of Norway and Vietnam”.

Mr. Arne Lynngård informed the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights that the Norwegian government had today confirmed their intent to issue an official protest on the Vietnamese government’s refusal to grant a visa to the Rafto Foundation’s Chairman to visit Vietnam.

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