Joint Press release
Bangkok, Paris, 2 January 2014 – On the morning of January 1, 2014, security police arrested, Vietnamese human rights defender and head of the Buddhist Youth Movement (BYM), Lê Công Cau at Phu Bai Airport near Hue after he boarded a plane bound for Ho Chi Minh City. FIDH and its member organization the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) express their serious concern over this arrest and detention.
Lê Công Cau was traveling to Ho Chi Minh City to visit Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) leader and prominent dissident Thich Quang Do. Thich Quang Do is under virtual house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery. Lê Công Cau had recently made several trips from Hue to visit the 86-year-old UBCV leader.
“Arresting Lê Công Cau for simply attempting to visit to an elderly monk is a serious violation of the right to religious freedom,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. “Vietnam will host the UN International Vesak Day (Buddha’s Birth) in May this year and the Vietnamese government claims to respect the rights of Buddhists. It should demonstrate its commitment by immediately releasing Lê Công Cau and Thich Quang Do from house arrest” he added.
After Lê Công Cau’s arrest, security police took him to Truong An district police station in Hue and interrogated him for 13 hours. He has not been provided with any explanation for his arrest or informed of any charges against him. Police also seized his two laptop computers, two flash drives, and two mobile phones as well as various documents concerning the UBCV. Security police stated in their interrogation report that Lê Công Cau was a member of the UBCV, which is not recognized by the Vietnamese government, and had therefore made “illegal use” of his laptops and flash drives. On the night of January 1, police placed Lê Cong Cau under house arrest at his home in Hue. Lê Cong Cau is deprived of any means of communication, prohibited from receiving visits, and must be ready to report to the police at any time. Some 15 plain-clothed security agents are posted outside his door.
The arrest of Lê Cong Cau contravenes Vietnam’s obligation under international law. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a state party, prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention and states that “anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.” In addition, Article 18 of the ICCPR, to which Vietnam is a state party, recognizes the right to freedom of religion.
“The ongoing repression of human rights defenders shows that Vietnam still has a long way to go in respecting and promoting fundamental human rights.” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “Arbitrary arrests and detention targeting independent Buddhist groups and other religious communities must cease and their members must be immediately and unconditionally released,” he urged.
Lê Công Cau was previously arrested in March 2013 and interrogated for three days because he posted articles on the internet calling on the Vietnamese government to re-establish the UBCV’s legal status and cease repression against UBCV members. Police accused him of “undermining the unity policy” and “circulating anti-state propaganda” under Articles 87 and 88 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code. Those offences carry prison sentences of up to 15 and 20 years respectively.
BYM, which has about 500,000 members in Vietnam, is an educational organization affiliated to UBCV. Although the UBCV is banned by the communist authorities, BYM has a semi-official status because of its widespread social, humanitarian, and educational activities, which are tolerated by government.