Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Thich Thien Minh interviewed

Venerable Thich Thien Minh (secular name Huyen Van Ba), age 51, described harsh prison conditions and other aspects of his life in a telephone interview with the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau on Feb. 6. Released in the Tet amnesty Feb. 2, along with Nguyen Dinh Huy from Z30A Reeducation camp, Ven. Minh had been detained since 1979 for his protests of religious repression and his support for the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. At Z30A camp are some other well known prisoners of conscience, including two priests with the Congregation of the Mother Co-redemptrix now detained for 18 years: Fr. Pham Minh Tri -- who has suffered dementia for the last ten years -- and Fr. Nguyen Duc Vinh. He also mentioned Ngo Quang Vinh, an 87-year-old Hoa Hao believer in very poor health. "There are so many elderly political prisoners in Z30A camp, 70-80 year-old men who came into the camp as strong, healthy youths with heads of shining black hair. Now their hair has turned white, their bodies are bent, yet they are still detained," he said.

Prison conditions have improved somewhat in recent years but still remain very draconian:
"For example, prisoners’ families are forbidden to bring more than 5 kilos of food parcels when they visit the camp, anything in excess is confiscated. This was the new quota fixed by the Chief Warden of Z30A re-education camp, Mr. Nguyen Trung Binh. Each prisoner may receive 5 kilos per visit, no more, and their families must not give them more than 300,000 dongs per month (approx. US$20). Considering the high food prices in the canteen, the camp’s exclusive monopoly on all purchases and the exorbitant interests rates they charge, prison life is excruciatingly harsh, especially for poor prisoners whose families cannot afford to visit them often."

He said he plans to visit Ven. Thich Quang Do in Ho Chi Minh city before going to Bac Lieu, where he is required to stay with a relative, but he has asked that he either be allowed to return to his old pagoda,
"build a new one, or let me reside temporarily in some other monastery so that I can practice Buddhism in peace." Public security officials told him upon his release that he must confine himself to practicing Buddhism and not criticize the government.

He hopes to have an operation to remove a throat tumor which he said is quite painful. He thanked the IBIB and other human rights groups for their important work for his release.

(Que Me/IBIB interview, Feb. 6)


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