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Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet’s threats against Thich Quang Do and the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam are “unworthy of a civilized society”

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PARIS, 11 September 2007 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau strongly protests the slanderous declaration made by Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet today in a meeting with representatives of the Vietnamese community in New Zealand.

Visiting New Zealand from 10-12 September after attending the APEC Summit in Sydney, Australia, President Triet was reacting to questions about the recent arrests of religious leaders and the government’s virulent media campaign against the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and its Deputy leader Thich Quang Do. President Triet darkly threatened that “these people who have violated the law, who have an organized structure, a strong network inside and outside the country and a clear plan to overthrow [the regime] will be put on trial”. “We will convict them as violators of the law. They are hiding under the cloak of religion, they are not really religious people”, he said, adding angrily: “We won’t have it! We won’t have it!” The full text of President Triet’s statement, recorded on video, was published on the website of the Vietnamese Service of the BBC in London today.

Mr Vo Van Ai, Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau and UBCV International Spokesman strongly denounced the slanderous and uncivilized accusations of Vietnam’s Communist leader: “The slanderous and unfounded campaign in the State-controlled media (TV, radio, press) is a gross violation of Vietnam’s own Constitution and laws, not to mention the UN Human Rights Covenants to which Vietnam acceded in 1982. Article 71 of the Vietnamese Constitution formally prohibits “all violation of the honour and dignity of a citizen”; Articles 121 and 122 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code provide prison sentences of 2-7 years for the crimes of “infringing on the dignity and honour of other persons” or “trump[ing] up or spread[ing] stories… to infringe upon the honour and damage the legitimate rights and interests of other persons” and Article 33 of the Civil Code stipulates that “no-one may encroach upon the prestige, dignity and honour of others”.

Moved by the plight of peasants and farmers known as “Victims of Injustice” (Dan Oan) demonstrating for weeks outside government buildings in Hanoi and Saigon, camping out on the pavements despite sweltering heat, rain-storms, lack of food and sanitation, Thich Quang Do escaped from house arrest on 17th July to distribute relief aid to demonstrators in Saigon. He subsequently set up a “UBCV Relief Fund for Victims of Injustice”, and with funds raised from overseas Vietnamese, sent Thich Khong Tanh to Hanoi to distribute 300 million VND (approx. US$ 19,000) to dispossessed peasants and farmers demonstrating outside the Government Complaints Office in Cau Giay Street. Thich Khong Tanh was arrested on 23rd August, prohibited from distributing relief aid and forcibly returned to Saigon.

“The Hanoi government welcomes overseas Vietnamese with open arms when they invest in their homeland and help combat poverty in Vietnam. Yet when they contribute to Thich Quang Do’s relief fund, they become “hostile forces” seeking to “overthrow the regime”, said Vo Van Ai. “Hanoi is living in the past, it is completely paranoid”, he said. “It should realize that the Cold War is over and gone. Thich Quang Do and the UBCV are simply doing acts of Compassion fitting to their philosophy and beliefs. How can distributing relief aid be interpreted as “overthrowing the government”?

“If Vietnam wants to integrate the international community, it should start behaving like a civilized country, cease its slanderous media campaign and Police repression against the UBCV, and stop terrorizing ordinary citizens and religious followers”, said Vo Van Ai.

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