Religious Freedom Special Alert

By Stephen Denney On August 3,1993, the Vietnamese government issued a four-point order instructing Ven. Thich Huyen Quang to refrain from all protests against the government's religious policy and to surrender the seal of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. The order marked what the government hopes is an end to a protest movement against the its religious policy, which Ven. Quang launched last year. Now 75 years old and in ill health, Ven. Quang has spent most of the last 17 years in prison or under house arrest for trying to protect the integrity of Buddhism in Vietnam. He was arrested in April 1977 with six other top monks of the UBC after protesting the government's religious policy.

They were released in December 1978 in response to world protest, but Ven. Quang and Ven. Thich Quang Do were arrested again in 1982 for protesting the government's creation of the "Vietnam Buddhist Church" which declared in its founding charter (Nov. 1991) that it was the only legitimate representative of Vietnamese Buddhism. In subsequent years, Ven. Quang has been under house arrest in a remote area of Quang Ngai province.

In May 1992, at the funeral ceremony in Hue of another prominent monk, Ven. Thich Don Hau, Ven. Quang issued an impassioned speech urging that the government allow the UBC to freely function. Since then, he has issued several statements challenging government policy, and the government has responded by arresting monks supportive of Ven.Quang, such as Thich Don Hau's close disciples Ven. Thich Hai Tang and Thich Tri Tuu, and tightening up surveillance and increasing interrogations of Ven. Quang.

The latest order is serious, even more so since the government referred to Ven. Quang by his secular name (highly demeaning to a Vietnamese monk). As executive director of the UBC, Ven. Quang is one of the most prominent monks in the country, and the UBC was a leading proponent of peace in Vietnam during the war.

Despite improvements, Buddhism continues to suffer restrictions in Vietnam, as witnessed by recent visitors Thich Nguyen Hai, Thich Tu Chon, and Thich Huong Hue, monks from Plum Village. They went to Vietnam in 1993 to participate in the summer retreat in Tu Hieu Pagoda, the temple of Thich Nhat Hanh, to learn chanting and other traditional rituals. Within three days of their arrival at the temple, police asked them to leave the country, citing that they had stated "tourism" rather than "business" on their visa applications. Sister Annabel Laity, on her tour of Vietnam in the Spring, was invited by many temples to give lectures and lead Days of Mindfulness, but as soon as she accepted, police asked her to leave within 24 hours.

Please write courteous letters to Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, requesting the release of Ven. Thich Huyen Quang and other detained monks and that the UBC be allowed to function freely.

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