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dpa : Vietnamese dissident monk detained by police

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HANOI, Feb 17, 2006 (dpa) – A prominent Vietnamese dissident and Buddhist monk has been detained by local police, a witness who observed the incident said on Friday.

Thich Quang Do, the deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, was stopped from boarding a train in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday evening. Members of his church said he had intended to travel from south to central Vietnam to visit an elderly monk, who is under house arrest for engaging in dissident activities.

“He was about to board the S-2 train when a lot of police came and arrested him,” said an official at the Ho Chi Minh City Railway Station, who refused to be named. “There was a lot of shouting but no beating.”

According to the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau, which received a phone call from the monks travelling with him, the police dragged Do, age 77, into a car and drove away. Church members said they immediately staged a sit-down strike in the Ho Chi Minh City train station. They have been unable to ascertain Do’s whereabouts.

“This is a grave violation of the right to freedom of movement and inviolability of the person, rights enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution,” said Vo Van Ai, the spokesman for the International Buddhist Information Bureau. “Once again Hanoi’s leaders have proved that they truly merit the US State Department’s designation of ‘Country of Particular Concern’ for flagrant violations of religious freedom and human rights.”

Do, a longtime critic of the communist regime, spent several years in prison following his arrest in 1995 on charges that he had damaged the interests of the state. He was released in 1998 as part of an amnesty programme but Do’s supporters say he has been under police surveillance ever since.

Do has been prohibited from travelling to visit Thich Huyen Quang, the church patriarch, in the past. It was not clear if the order had been lifted and if Do was now free to travel. Authorities have not said why Do was detained.

Last year a United Nations’ monitoring body named both monks as victims of arbitrary detention. Vietnam has insisted that the men are completely free.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam has been banned practically since its inception more than 30 years ago. The government allows people to worship freely but it objects to religious groups that are not sanctioned by the state. Vietnam authorities established the official Buddhist Church of Vietnam in 1981. dpa mao pw ff

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