HANOI, Oct 10 (AFP) – Vietnam said Friday two senior monks from an outlawed Buddhist church could face house arrest because they were in possession of documents containing state secrets.
Foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung said Thich Huyen Quang, patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), and his deputy Thich Quang Do were stopped by police on Thursday morning while travelling to Ho Chi Minh City.
“While checking transport on national highway A1, local patrol forces discovered Mr Quang Do and Mr Huyen Quang carrying much evidence of wrongdoings, even some documents containing state secrets,” he said.
In his statement, Dung did not say where their vehicle was apprehended.
“At present, the relevant authorities are continuing their investigation into the case. There has not yet been any decision about putting these people under house arrest, and how the case is dealt with will depend on the investigation results and the attitudes of the people concerned,” he added.
The foreign ministry spokesman said that after being questioned Quang, 86, returned to Binh Dinh while his 76 year-old deputy, a 2003 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, travelled to Ho Chi Minh City.
The two monks had left the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in the central province of Binh Dinh for the southern business capital on Wednesday.
Dung’s comments followed claims by the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) that the pair, together with six other monks and three lay-followers were involved in a 10-hour stand-off with security police on Wednesday morning after they tried to leave the monastery.
Their vehicle was allowed to proceed after around 200 monks from the monastery and about 1,000 locals had formed a protective human wall around the vehicle, witnesses told IBIB.
On Thursday Dung dismissed the claims.
“We reject this ill-willed sheer fabrication by the so-called International Buddhist Information Bureau,” he told reporters.
The IBIB is the overseas information arm of the UBCV, which was outlawed by the communist regime in 1981 because it refused to become part of the state-sanctioned Buddhist church.
The organization also said Wednesday that undercover security police were preventing monks and nuns from leaving 20 pagodas in the central city of Hue, a former hotbed of Buddhist dissent. Again, Dung dismissed the claims.
The government’s threat of house arrest against the Quang and Do is likely to add fuel to calls by congressional lobbies in the United States for the Bush administration to take action against Hanoi over its human rights record.
“It’s seem absolutely unexplainable why the authorities are making these missteps now,” a Western diplomat said. “It is almost as if they are begging to be blacklisted.”
In particular, Washington is under pressure from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to name Vietnam as a “country of particular concern.”
“These actions go completely against what we thought were efforts by the government towards reconciliation,” he added.
Wednesday’s stand-off follows a wave of harassment of UBCV monks which began early last month when police heard that Quang and Do had called a special UBCV assembly on September 16-19 to reorganize its structure, according to the IBIB.