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Vietnamese Buddhists worldwide call on UN Secretary General to press for release of Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do on UN Vesak Day

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PARIS, 9 May 2008 (IBIB) – Leaders of Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia have appealed to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to call for the release of UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy Thich Quang Do on the occasion of the UN Day of the Vesak, celebrated in Hanoi from 13-17 May 2008.

Representing a community of over 2 million Vietnamese Buddhists in 70 countries all over the world, the Most Venerables Thich Ho Giac (USA), Thich Thien Tam (Canada), Thich Tri Minh (Europe), Venerable Thich Phuoc Nhon (Australia) and UBCV International spokesman Vo Van Ai sent a letter to UN Secretary-general Ban Ki Moon urging him to seize the opportunity of the UN-sponsored international Buddhist celebration to make this gesture.

“Since the United Nations gave international recognition to the celebrations of Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Passing away in 1999, this event has gained huge significance. In our world torn by intolerance and violence, observance of the UN Day of Vesak inspires Buddhists and non-Buddhists worldwide to strive together for a safer and more peaceful world, through mutual respect, understanding and harmonious coexistence”.

All Vietnamese Buddhists should be proud that the event is celebrated in Vietnam, they said. But “on the contrary, it fills us with deep sadness and concern. For as the government hosts these grand celebrations and welcomes foreign visitors to Vietnam, thousands of monks, nuns and lay followers from the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) remain under detention or house arrest. The UBCV, heir to a 2,000-year tradition of tolerance and compassion, and adhered to by a great majority of the Vietnamese population, is outlawed by the government today, its pagodas confiscated or destroyed, its monks, nuns and followers detained. In 1981, Vietnam set up the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, controlled by the Communist Party’s Fatherland Front, to supplant the UBCV. Their members are subjected to strict political control, and several of its dignitaries are members of the National Assembly, in violation of traditional monastic vows”.

The letter’s signatories expressed grave concern on growing persecution against the UBCV as the UN Day of Vesak drew near. “At this very moment, Security Police are stepping up harassment against UBCV followers all over the country”. They cited the eviction of UBCV monk Thich Tri Khai from Giac Hai Pagoda in Lam Dong province, Police assaults and vandalism against UBCV monk Thich Tu Giao in Quang Tri, Police-organized “denunciation sessions” against UBCV monk Thich Chi Thang and other monks in Hue and the systematic repression of monks, nuns and lay-followers in more than 20 UBCV “representative boards” in the poor towns and rural areas.

“We are deeply concerned that Vietnam is exploiting UN Vesak Day for political ends. Faced with growing criticism of its abuses of religious freedom, notably the recommendation, on 2nd May 2008 by the US Commission on International Commission on Religious Freedom to re-designate Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern” for egregious violations of religious freedom, the Vietnamese leadership is using the Vesak to enhance its international image, to legitimize State-controlled Buddhism and suppress the traditional UBCV. If they succeed, it would be a tragedy, not only for Buddhists, but for all the people of Vietnam. By eradicating the UBCV, they would stifle an essential voice of civil society, one that is bravely articulating the hopes of millions of Vietnamese for peaceful development, freedom and human rights”.

In conclusion, the signatories launched an appeal to Mr. Ban Ki-moon:

“Mr. Secretary General,

“In your 2007 Message on the UN Day of Vesak, you called on all people, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, “to deal with our fellow human beings graciously and objectively, without hatred or ill-will”. These noble words reflect the founding spirit of the United Nations Organization, which Vietnam, as a UN member state…, is obliged to uphold.

“On the occasion of the 2008 UN Day of Vesak, we call upon you to urge Vietnam to fulfil this obligation by ceasing repression of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and immediately releasing UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Most Venerable Thich Quang Do. Vietnam should restore the UBCV’s legitimate status, lift all restrictions on UBCV followers, and return all UBCV property and institutions confiscated by the State since 1975.

“Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Most Venerable Thich Quang Do are revered by millions of Vietnamese Buddhists and recognized internationally for their courage, wisdom and compassion. Celebrating UN Vesak Day in Vietnam whilst these eminent monks are in detention, and whilst the UBCV is banned on Vietnam’s very own soil is unacceptable. We count upon you, Mr. Secretary General, to raise their plight on this auspicious day. Thereby, you will restore hope to millions of Vietnamese, and make the UN Day of the Vesak a day of happiness and joy for Vietnamese Buddhists worldwide”.

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