Buddhist Prisoners in Vietnam

By Stephen Denney In the last issue of The Mindfulness Bell, we reported the trial of Venerable Thich Quang Do, age 68, and five other members of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBC) on August 15, 1995.

Ven. Quang Do, UBC Secretary General, was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Others sentenced were Ven. Thich Khong Tanh (five years), Ven. Thich Nhat Bang (four years), Ven. Thich Tri Luc (two and a half years), Nhat Thuong, a layman (three years), and Mrs. Dong Ngoc (two years, suspended sentence). They were charged with "undermining the policy of unity" between religion and state, which appears to be based on their efforts to carry out religious and social work in the name of the UBC. Ven. Thich Quang Do had also written an open letter to Vietnam's Communist Party Secretary General protesting the Party's legacy of religious and political repression. At the time they were tried, authorities indicated that UBC Executive Director Ven. Thich Huyen Quang (age 77) and Ven. Thich Tri Luc, head abbot of the famous Linh Mu Pagoda in Hue, will also be tried for their public dissent.

Ven. Thich Quang Do has been forcibly relocated to the north and his present whereabouts are unknown. Three of the other monks at the August 15 trial appealed their verdicts, but a higher court rejected the appeal on October 28. We had hoped that Ven. Thich Tue Sy and Ven. Thich Tri Sieu might be released on Vietnam's 50th National Day (the anniversary of the government established by Ho Chi Minh in 1945), but unfortunately this did not occur. The number of prisoners released that day was much lower than expected. On the other hand, government spokespersons indicated in October that Ven. Thich Huyen Quang would not be tried.

In a related development, Do Trung Hieu was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment in a trial held in November. Hieu was formerly Ho Chi Minh City's Communist Party liaison officer for religious affairs and was arrested in June 1995 for writing a document highly critical of the government's policy toward Buddhists.

The government's imprisonment of these leading UBC monks has elicited strong protests from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch Asia, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus; as well as the United States and other governments. In August, the Community of Mindful Living sent 8,000 people a letter written by Sister Chan Khong urging that faxes be sent to Vietnam's Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet and Party leader Do Muoi protesting these latest developments. We also circulated letters to be faxed to Mr. Kiet and Mr. Muoi at Thay's lectures and retreats in the United States in September and October. We are grateful to those of you who responded to these appeals. If you would like to join in this effort, please ask the Community of Mindful Living to send you copies of the letters for you to sign and send. I recently came across this passage in a monograph written by Sister Chan Khong in 1969, entitled "Voices From the Burning House":

"In 1964 two young Buddhist monks, Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh and Ven. Thich Quang Do, worked to convince the Buddhist Church to lead the movement against the war and against the intervention of foreigners in Vietnam." 

Now, 31 years later, Ven. Thich Quang Do is serving a fiveyear sentence for protesting human rights abuses, his present whereabouts unknown. Is this not tragic? Let us continue to support him and other monks, nuns, and laypeople who have devoted their lives to peace and genuine reconciliation in Vietnam.

I would like to conclude with a note we received from Sister Chan Khong, commenting.on the government's announcement that Thich Huyen Quang will not be tried: "That is only one step back from the government's pattern of increasing  human rights violations. If the Vietnamese authorities did step back a bit, it is because we have advanced our work with tens of thousands of letters and with more pressure from international organizations. But if we are not alert and we are lazy, then they will advance their suppression. Thank you for your patience. Please continue. The process is slow but without bloodshed."

Stephen Denney is editor of Vietnam Journal and a longtime activist for human rights in Southeast Asia. To subscribe to Vietnam Journal ($8 per year), write P.O. Box 1163, Burlingame, CA 94011.

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