Sunday, June 08, 2008

Buddhist monk disappears, secret party document unveils plans

Buddhist monk Thich Tri Khai was arrested and has now disappeared from his pagoda in Lam Dong province, reports the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB). Two other monks from the province have been subjected to harsh police interrogations for their support of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) -- Thich Tam Man, superior monk of Su Tu pagoda in Duc Trong district, and Thich Nhu Tan, president of the UBCV Lam Dong representative board. The IBIB is the overseas press office of the UBCV.

Ven. Khai, superior monk of Giac Hoi pagoda of Don Duong district, was arrested on April 29 when police broke the locks to his pagoda and seized the premises in order to use it for the state-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha's (VBS) Vesak celebration. He was locked in a room in the pagoda and then disappeared on May 7. Police say he was taken to Saigon for medical treatment, but he has not been heard from since, and efforts of his colleagues and relatives to contact him have failed. The Vesak celebrations, ironically, were an international event hosted by Vietnam and used by the government to proclaim its religious tolerance.

Ven. Khai was also the subject of a secret party document from Don Duong district of Lam Dong province which was obtained by the IBIB. The "Secret Plan", document No. 44-KH/BCD, was promulgated Sept. 13, 2007, signed by Ly Van Kiet, deputy head of the Steering Committee on Religious Affairs for the district, and Assistant Secretary General of the Don-Duong Vietnamese Communist Party. The document was aimed generally against the UBCV in the district, and particularly at Ven. Khai. It said that there were 21,000 Buddhists in the district and some 15 Buddhist pagodas, all of them established before 1975, and complained that a number of monks and nuns in the district did not cooperate with the state sponsored church created in 1981.

It noted that Thich Tri Khai had affiliated with the now banned UBCV and had failed to comply with the orders of the state-sponsored church. The document described the struggle against Thich Tri Khai as part of the larger struggle against the UBCV, and this in turn as part of the struggle against proponents of "peaceful evolution", i.e. nonviolent change toward a democratic society. The document set out measures to use against Khai, including urging citizens of his district to denounce him on moral grounds, but these efforts apparently failed. The IBIB notes that only 12 Buddhists signed a petition supporting his expulsion, whereas 239 signed a counter-petition protesting the government's treatment of him. The failure of the government to isolate him and mobilize opinion against him might explain his disappearance.

Source: Press releases of the International Buddhist Information Bureau, May 13, 28; party document discussed in April 18 press release; posted at the website of Que Me.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Nguyen Van Dai's wife petitions court

Vu Minh Khanh, wife of Hanoi lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, has petitioned the Vietnam Supreme Court to vacate the court sentence given to her husband of four years in jail followed by four years house arrest. The pro-democracy activist was declared guilty of "spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," in violation of Article 89 of Vietnam's Criminal Code. In her appeal she noted numerous irregularities in the police procedure leading to his arrest (along with his colleague Le Thi Cong Nhan), and in the subsequent court procedure by the court of first instance and court of appeals, procedures which did not even conform to the rather meager protections allowed defendants under Vietnam's Criminal Procedure Code. She concluded:

"It’s worth noting that only ONE of the four grounds is required for cassation whereas all FOUR grounds of this article are violated in my husband’s case. They are: shallow inquiries and interro-gations; inconsistency of court decisions with the objectivity of circumstances; grave violations of criminal procedures; grave mistakes in the application of the Criminal Code.

"It is, THEREFORE, by virtue of Article 274, Code of Criminal Procedure, that I am petitioning to the Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court and the Procurator-General of the Supreme People’s Procuracy for a protest according to cassation procedures. Considering the above grave violations,

my husband has been unjustly sentenced. In view of the fact that my husband has been imprisoned for more than 14 months, I hereby petition to the Court of Cassation for a speedy review of my husband’s case. I also suggest that the Court of Cassation record in my hus-band’s sentences specific evidences and arguments to avoid ambiguous decisions that had been reached at previous trials."

Source: Doi Thoai website.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Amnesty International criticizes Vietnam in annual report

In its annual report on worldwide human rights conditions, Amnesty International criticized Vietnam for continued tight controls over freedom of expression and association, arrests of dissidents, unfair political trials and legislation, persecution of ethnic minorities, and the continued use of the death penalty. It highlighted the cases of individuals associated with Bloc 8406, an organization founded to promote democracy and human rights in Vietnam, which suffered from a crackdown launched after the APEC meeting in Hanoi in November 2006.

Source: Amnesty International 2008.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Political crackdown and economic downturn

James Hookway of the Wall Street Journal writes in its June 4 edition that the arrests of journalists Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien for their reporting on the corruptoin scandal may be related to a reassertion of authority by conservative hardliners in the Vietnamese Communist Party and the recent economic woes Vietnam is facing, including inflation and the prospect of hundreds of labor strikes:

"Observers like Prof. Thayer say the arrests point to a backlash against the modest political opening introduced by Mr. Dung, 58 years old. Since he became prime minister in 2006, Mr. Dung has overshadowed Vietnam's other top leaders, party chief Mr. Manh and President Nguyen Minh Triet.

"Mr. Dung has maintained a high profile in the local media in Vietnam, frequently being filmed with representatives of the many multinational companies that have flocked to Vietnam in the past few years to escape rising costs in China and other countries. Mr. Dung even sat for a day answering emailed questions from Vietnamese citizens.

"But with inflation rising and many of the people who have flocked to its cities and industrial parks to fuel its rapid economic growth now struggling to make ends meet, more conservative members of the Politburo seem to be reasserting their authority..."

Source: Wall Street Journal, June 4.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Thich Huyen Quang seriously ill, hospitalized

Ven. Thich Huyen Quang, the Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, was admitted to the General Hospital in Quy Nhon on 27th May, reports the International Buddhist Information Bureau, "suffering from breathing problems due to a heart condition. The 89 year old Patriarch is reportedly very weak." IBIB says Thich Quang Do, deputy to Thich Huyen Quang, has finally been allowed to visit him, along with some other monks, after years of being prevented from doing so.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam was the major Buddhist organization in the south prior to 1975, and had become known to the west for its involvement in "third force" and peace movement. After the communist victory, the new regime moved quickly to control the UBCV along with other organizations that represented a potential dissident force in the country. After he wrote a letter in March 1977 to then PM Pham Van Dong describing in detail various incidents of anti-Buddhist repression, Thich Huyen Quang was arrested along with seven other top UBCV leaders. They were held in prison until the end of 1978.

He and Thich Quang Do led the protest against the government establishment of a state-sponsored Buddhist Church in 1981, which declared in its founding charter that it was the only legitimate representative of Vietnamese Buddhism within the country and in relations overseas. As a result, the UBCV was essentially banned, while Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do have spent most of the years since then under some form of house arrest. Despite this, both have managed to issue from time to time courageous and eloquent statements challenging the government's behavior toward religions and human rights in general.

It is sad that a man of Thich Huyen Quang's stature could have been forced into a form of internal exile in central Vietnam, essentially cut off from the outside world, for no crime other than speaking out boldly for religious freedom and human rights. He has truly lived by the Quaker expression, "speak truth to power", and has paid a price for it.

Source: Que Me, May 31, 2008.