Thursday, April 12, 2007

U.S. official meets Thich Quang Do, Vietnam officials

Visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric John told reporters Tuesday that human rights and freedom of expression in Vietnam will be a priority in U.S.-Vietnam relations. John refused to discuss specifics of his meeting with Thich Quang Do, leader of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), or of his meetings with government officials where he raised the issue of human rights. However, he said:

"In general my points were that Vietnam has reached a level of development where it should be confident enough to allow the space necessary for a greater political discourse,' John said at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy."

According to the International Buddhist Information Bureau in Paris, which functions as the UBCV overseas press office, the meeting lasted two hours. Its information was based on a conversation with Thich Quang Do, who urged greater support from the U.S. for the dissident movement in Vietnam and dismissed as a "smokescreen" references to Vietnam's communist leadership being divided between hardliners and pragmatists.

The IBIB press release concluded:

"Thich Quang Do told the delegation that, at the same time Hanoi had showed leniency towards some democratic activists for its own political ends, it had pursued a systematic and ruthless policy of repression against the outlawed UBCV. He cited the systematic harassments, intimidation, assaults and surveillance of members of 20 UBCV provincial representative boards set up to help poor people in the Central and Southern provinces, and the arbitrary detention under house arrest, without any due process of law, of the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and himself. 'We are both prisoners within our own Monasteries, deprived of all basic freedoms and rights'. This policy of religious repression was not only targeted against the outlawed UBCV, he said. Other non-recognized religious bodies such as the ethnic Christian Montagnards, the Protestants and the Hoa Hao suffer similar repression today.

"However, Thich Quang Do told the US delegation that he remained optimistic. 'Buddhism teaches us that all things are impermanent. Nothing lasts forever. Vietnam’s Communist regime is no exception to this natural rule. The day will come when democracy and freedom will flourish in Vietnam.'”

Sources: Associated Press, April 10; Que Me, April 9; see also Voice of America, April 12.


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