The U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, David Shear recently visited Thich Quang Do, the leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. On the same day, police forces in Danang beat UBCV monks.
International Buddhist Information Bureau Director Vo Van Ai spoke with Mr. Thich, age 83, on August 20th; Mr. Thich said the August 17th meeting was very open and cordial. Mr. Thich said he had expressed his concerns to the Mr. Shear about a range of issues, from religious freedom violations against the outlawed Buddhist church in Vietnam to issues of Chinese encroachment on Vietnamese territorial waters and lands.
He presented Ambassador Shear with a memorandum entitled Situation of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and told him that he feared the U.S. has underestimated Vietnam’s repression of the UBCV. Citing the State Department’s recent Report on International Religious Freedom, he wrote: “While appreciating the 2011 State Department’s report of abuses against the UBCV, we are concerned that they portray but a pale picture of the systematic police pressures, harassment and intimidation faced by UBCV Buddhists in every aspect of their daily lives.”
Mr. Thich described the government’s suppression of the UBCV in the 37 years since Vietnam was unified under Communist rule in 1975. Since then, the UBCV has been effectively banned: “The Communist regime took everything. They seized all our pagodas, our schools, hospitals, orphanages and charitable organisations. They forbid all our activities, not only religious but also social, humanitarian and educational. But we are keeping up the struggle to preserve our name, our legitimacy, our existence,”‘ Mr. Thich wrote.
UBCV monks, nuns and followers, including members of 20 UBCV provincial representative boards set up to help poor people in the Central and Southern provinces are subjected to systematic harassments, intimidation, assaults and surveillance, Mr. Thich said.
The memorandum cited the case of the Giac Minh Pagoda in Danang, in which the State Department reported that “the Danang People’s Committee advised [the UBCV] to refrain from hanging religious banners or images and from reading messages from one of their monks on Vesak, the commemoration of the Buddha’s birthday” in May 2011. In fact, the Danang People’s Committee strictly prohibited Vesak celebrations at the Pagoda, deploying hundreds of Police and security officials to block all entries to the building, forcibly obstructing and assaulting Buddhists who tried to take part. The reading of the traditional Vesak Message by Patriarch Thich Quang Do was also strictly prohibited.
Whereas the State Department’s report stated that Thich Quang Do “can meet with others inside and outside the Pagoda” he told Mr. Shear that he is held under effective house arrest — without any justification or charge — and forbidden even to preach in the monastery. Security Police are posted outside the building and keep watch on all his movements. He says they follow him when he goes out for check-ups at the hospital each month.
The UBCV Patriarch said that he had also spoken with Ambassador Shear about the grave implications of Chinese encroachment on Vietnamese waters and lands. He stressed that it was in the interests of the U.S., as well as all countries that use the sea lanes in the South China seas, to support Vietnam in its claims to sovereignty. Deeply disturbed by increasing Chinese incursions on Vietnamese waters and lands, Venerable Thich called for a nationwide demonstration on July 1st to protest Chinese expansionism and press the Hanoi government to take a firm stand to protect Vietnam’s national integrity.
At the same time, he urged the Vietnamese Communist Party to look upon the U.S. as a friend:“If you live next to a very powerful neighbor who spends its time double-crossing you, it is important to know who your friends are.” But to win the support of the United States and the international community, he said, Vietnam must embark on a process of democratization. “Whether they like it or not, Vietnam will become a democracy some day. But the Party is afraid. They are more afraid of losing the Party than losing the country. This is the tragedy of the Vietnamese people today.”
On the same day as Ambassador Shear visited Thich Quang Do, security police in Danang beat and harassed UBCV monk Thich Thanh Quang and Le Cong Cau, a leader of the UBCV Buddhist Youth Movement.
According to IBIB, events began on Friday morning when Mr. Le went to Giac Minh Pagoda to pay his respects to Thich Thanh Quang for the Vu Lan festival and to commemorate the death of UBCV Buddhist Ho Tan Quang, who immolated himself in 2001 in Danang to pray for religious freedom.
As Mr. Le approached the Pagoda’s gates, he was intercepted by a group of plain-clothed youths pushed him into a lane beside the Pagoda and pressed him against the wall until he could not breathe. They said he must not go to the Pagoda. When Mr. Cau asked why, they said they had no need to explain. He cried out to Thich Thanh Quang, who came running out of the Pagoda with two UBCV nuns. When Thich Thanh Quang tried to free Mr. Le, the youths beat the elderly monk and twisted his arm.
A crowd of Buddhist followers gathered, and two uniformed Security Police arrived on the scene, but they made no attempt to intervene. On the contrary, they ordered Mr. Le to go to the Police Station for interrogation. When he refused, the Police accused him of “resisting officials in the performance of their duty” – a crime punishable by seven years in prison in Vietnam.