HANOI, Nov 19 (AFP) – Thich Huyen Quang, the elderly head of an outlawed Vietnamese Buddhist church who has been under house arrest for over a year, is gravely ill in hospital, the church’s Paris-based information arm said Friday.
The 87-year-old patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) was rushed to hospital in the central province of Binh Dinh on Thursday for emergency treatment, the International Buddhist Information Bureau said.
Citing hospital sources, it said in a statement that Thich Huyen Quang was suffering from a stomach hemorrhage and was “extremely weak”.
The monk, who is one of the communist nation’s most prominent dissidents, has been detained in isolation at a monastery in Binh Dinh since October 9 last year when he was arrested in a crackdown on the newly-elected UBCV leadership.
He and his 76-year-old deputy Thich Quang Do were placed under house arrest without trial and accused of being in possession of state secrets and trying to reorganise the church with the help of outside forces.
“Due to these poor conditions, his health has deteriorated significantly over the past year,” the church’s information arm said.
The UBCV was officially banned in 1981 because it refused to come under the ruling Communist Party’s control.
Thich Huyen Quang has spent the past 23 years in internal exile because of his appeals for religious freedom, human rights and democratic reforms.
In April 2003, during a trip to Hanoi for urgent medical treatment, he was received by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai in a historic meeting that raised hopes of a new era of religious tolerance for the outlawed church.
These hopes were soon dashed, however, following a meeting on October 1 last year in which 60 UBCV monks met to elect a new leadership.
Security police launched a widespread crackdown, putting senior monks under house arrest and placing hundreds of pagodas under surveillance.
In September the US State Department designated Vietnam as one of the world’s worst offenders on religious freedom.