Viet Nam: Police harass and intercept UBCV monks and lay-followers to prevent celebrations of Buddhism’s Memorial Day in Hue

PARIS, 8 January 2014 (IBIB) – Buddhists in the central city of Hue inform the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) that Police and security forces are intercepting, harassing and intimidating monks, nuns and lay-followers of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) to prevent them from organizing a Memorial Day commemoration at the Long Quang Pagoda in Hue on 10 January 2014. Since this morning (Vietnam time), over 100 Security Police have surrounded Long Quang Pagoda, intercepting all those who attempt to enter or leave. Since 6 pm (Vietnam Time), the internet at Long Quang Pagoda has been cut.

Memorial Day is one of the most important events in the Buddhist calendar in Vietnam. It is held to honour and commemorate the founding masters of Vietnamese Buddhism and all those who have contributed to its development over the past 2,000 years. It was to be held at Long Quang Pagoda because this is the new Secretariat of the UBCV’s Executive Institute Viện Hóa Đạo, and Venerable Thich Nhu Dat, the Pagoda’s Superior monk, is Viện Hóa Đạo’s new head. He replaces Thich Vien Dinh of Giac Hoa Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City who was dismissed from his post in December 2013.

On Tuesday (7 January), Venerable Thich Thanh Quang, Deputy Head of Viện Hóa Đạo was summoned for interrogations by Security Police in Danang and forbidden to attend the commemorations in Hue. When he protested, they stepped up Police surveillance around his Pagoda (the Giac Minh Pagoda in Danang, also the head office of the Buddhist Youth Movement, has been under tight Police surveillance for the past three years).

Venerable Thich Chon Tam, Secretary General of the UBCV Institute of the Sangha, travelled from the southern province of An Giang to assist with Memorial Day preparations. Since yesterday morning, local Security Police have subjected him to “working sessions” (interrogations) and threaten to send him back to An Giang.

Venerable Thich Nguyen Ly, UBCV Treasurer and Charity Commissioner was intercepted by Police as he set off from Ho Chi Minh City with a delegation of UBCV monks and followers from the Tu Hieu Meditation Centre yesterday. They were forced to turn back, and the centre is now surrounded by Security forces.

Monks and nuns from 18 UBCV Provincial Committees all over southern and central Vietnam have been similarly intercepted and placed under surveillance in their pagodas.

Members of the Buddhist Youth Movement (BYM) are also the target of severe Police harassments. Nguyen Tat Truc, BYM Deputy leader and head of the BYM section in Hue was arrested and detained for questioning on 6 and 7 January. Police accused him of participating in an “illegal organization” (the UBCV) and of “violating the law” by signing letters on behalf of the BYM. Security Police ordered him to resign from the UBCV’s Executive Institute and prohibited him from going outside Thuy Phuong district. He is explicitly forbidden to attend Memorial Day at Long Quang Pagoda, and has been placed under close Police surveillance. Nguyen Tat Truc’s house arrest has seriously impacted his family’s economic situation, since he is no longer able to take his wife to work in Hue, where they rely on her earnings in the period before Tet (Lunar New year) to ensure their income.

Hoang Nhu Dao, Deputy head of the BYM in Hue was interrogated by Police at his home on Tuesday morning and questioned again at the Police station in the afternoon. He has also been accused of “illegal activities” and Police are now posted outside his home, frightening his young children.

Many members of the Buddhist Youth Movement were also intercepted and prevented from attending the traditional Memorial ceremony for founders of the BYM in Vietnam on 7 January at the Phuoc Thanh Pagoda in Hue. Whereas this annual event usually draws hundreds of participants, only 70 BYM leaders managed to circumvent Police controls. Key members of the BYM currently subjected to harassments, surveillance and Police “working sessions” include: Hoang Nhu Dao (in Phuong Dien district); Ms. Hoang Thi Hong Phuong, Van Dinh Tat and Nguyen Sac (in Quang Dien district); Ngo Duc Tien and Van Tien Nhi (in Phu vang District); Truong Dien Hieu (Huong Tra district); Nguyen Tat Truc and Nguyen Dinh Mong (Huong Thuy district). The BYM reports that it has been unable to contact many other members, and fears for their security.

Lê Công Câu, national BYM leader and Secretary General of the UBCV’s Executive Institute Viện Hóa Đạo, who was arrested on 1 January2014 remains under house arrest without charge at his home in Hue without any formal justification or charge, and is obliged to attend frequent Police interrogations.

The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) strongly condemns this new crack-down on the UBCV and its educational youth movement, the BYM. Although Police claim it is an “illegal organization”, the UBCV has never been formally banned by the communist authorities. Its members are therefore legitimately entitled to pursue peaceful religious activities as guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution. IBIB calls on the international community to press Vietnam to uphold its binding obligations as a state party to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in particular, to raise these cases with Vietnam during its upcoming Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council on 5 February 2014. —