HANOI, 04 juil 2008 (AFP) – The leader of the Vietnamese Buddhist movement that has refused to come under the control of the communist government is gravely ill in hospital, his supporters and state media said Friday.
Thich Huyen Quang, 87, patriarch of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), was admitted to hospital on May 27 in central Binh Dinh province, where he has been in internal exile for decades, they said.
The possibility he may not survive much longer has sharply raised tensions between the one-party government and UBCV monks and supporters who have travelled to see Quang at the Quy Nhon hospital in recent weeks.
The state-controlled Vietnam News Agency on Friday attacked Quang’s deputy and other followers as “extremist elements disguised as Buddhist monks who have been working to sabotage the Vietnamese state.”
The report, which did not mention Quang’s decades of dissent, also said that the state-sponsored Buddhist church had discussed “preparations for a solemn Buddhist funeral in case Most Venerable Quang dies.”
Paris-based UBCV spokesman Vo Van Ai said the outlawed group was “shocked and outraged” by the report and said Hanoi was “cynically seeking to draw political capital” in case the patriarch died.
Among Quang’s visitors in hospital has been his activist deputy and anointed successor Thich Quang Do, winner of Norway’s 2006 Rafto human rights award, who was labelled an “extremist” in the state media article.
The UBCV spokesman said “Thich Quang Do went out there immediately to bring comfort to his leader and lifelong friend, hoping that his prayers, presence and care could help Thich Huyen Quang to recover.”
“Yet whilst Thich Quang Do and the UBCV pray for the patriarch’s life, Hanoi is already planning for his death, and cynically seeking to draw political capital from it by imposing a state-organized funeral, ” Ai said.
Ai added in a statement that local communist authorities had “issued orders prohibiting Buddhists from gathering at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh, ” where Quang has been under police surveillance.
The state media article charged that “a number of extremists are devising a plot to use the serious health condition of a senior Buddhist monk to bring out their illegal organisation called ‘Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam’.”
It listed UBCV figures Do along with Thich Khong Tanh, Vien Dinh “and their henchmen” as the “extremist elements” working to undermine the government.