PARIS, 3 July 2008 (IBIB) – The International Budhist Information Bureau is shocked and outraged by the news report issued by the official Vietnam News Agency and relayed on 3rd July by several State-run newspapers in Vietnam (Thanh Nien, Hanoi Moi etc) concerning the “imminent funeral” of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 89, who is gravely ill at the Quy Nhon General hospital in Binh Binh.
Under the title “Unmasking the dark intentions of Quang Do”, VNA states that Venerable Thich Quang Do and several senior UBCV dignitaries and Buddhist Youth leaders have gathered in Binh Dinh “on the pretext of visiting Thich Huyen Quang”, but are in fact “awaiting his death” and “plotting to make use of his funeral make public the banned UBCV”. The official press agency accuses Thich Quang Do and the UBCV of “usurping the right” (sic) to organise Patriarch’s funeral, and claims that the funeral should be organised by the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha in Binh Dinh.
Whilst denouncing Thich Quang Do’s presence beside the UBCV Patriarch, the news agency’s statement commended members of the Government Religious Board and local religious officials for visiting Thich Huyen Quang in hospital, “even though he is not a member of the [State-sponsored] Vietnam Buddhist Sangha”.
Mr. Vo Van Ai, UBCV International spokesman and IBIB Director, expressed his profound indignation at this “cynical and inhumane” statement, which reveals the “heartless political manipulations of the Hanoi regime”. Since Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang was taken into the emergency ward of Quy Nhon hospital on 27th May, many senior UBCV dignitaries travelled to Binh Dinh to visit him. “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. Such inhumane calculations are profoundly shocking, especially from a government that has just hosted the UN Day of the Vesak. Hanoi’s leadership has obviously learned no lessons from this celebration of universal compassion. It is “repression as usual” against Buddhism once again”.
“This is a gross interference into internal Buddhist affairs”, said Mr. Ai “Vietnam’s Constitution enshrines the right to religious freedom. The Communist leadership has no right interfere into the internal affairs of a religious organisation such as the UBCV, nor impose its political criteria”. He stressed that UBCV Buddhists would not accept such political interference, and that, in the sad event that the Patriarch did not recover from his illness, Vietnam could under no circumstances prevent UBCV Buddhists from mourning their leader and organizing his funeral in accordance with UBCV traditions and rites.
He noted that the local Communist authorities in Binh Dinh had already issued orders prohibiting Buddhists from gathering at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh (Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang’s residence) and restricting religious activities to the local pagodas.
Mr. Ai also rejected the claim that Thich Quang Do was “plotting to make use of the funeral to make public the UBCV”, because the UBCV was already an established organisation with a long historical tradition in Vietnam. “Buddhism has been unified in Vietnam since the Dinh dynasty in 986, when Buddhist hierarchy was established for the first time”, he declared. “Moreover, before Vietnam was partitioned by the 1954 Geneva Agreement, Buddhists from different schools in the North, South and Centre of Vietnam were unified into one body at a Congress at the Tu Dam Pagoda in Hue in 1951”.
The UBCV is also publicly recognized by the international community, he noted, with scores of Resolutions adopted by the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament calling on Vietnam to restore the UBCV’s legitimate status and release Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do. “Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang is widely recognized as a leading spiritual figure”, said Mr Ai, “Since the Patriarch was taken into hospital, not only have millions of Buddhists at home and abroad held prayers for his recovery, but IBIB has received messages of sympathy from hundreds of international personalities, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and many Members of Parliament and the US Congress”.
“This political interference into religious affairs is inadmissible, especially for a country that holds the Presidency of the United Nations’ Security Council”. Mr. Ai said that he had written today to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who is currently President of the European Union, U.S. President George W. Bush, and members of the US Congress and European Parliament, urging them to press Vietnam to cease political interference and allow the UBCV to settle their own internal affairs.