Vietnam: Call to Action

By Stephen Denney Since the last issue of The Mindfulness Bell, the situation of the two most prominent imprisoned monks has not changed significantly. Ven. Thich Quang Do, Sec.-Gen. of the Unified Buddhist Church (UBC) of Vietnam, has been moved to a prison camp near Hanoi. He was recently awarded by Human Rights Watch (along with Hanoi intellectual Hoang Minh Chinh) the Hellman-Hammet Award for Persecuted Writers. Ven. Thich Huyen Quang, 77, Exec. Secretary of the UBC, is still detained in a one-room hut in Quang Ngai province, surrounded by Security Police. He has developed a chronic lung disorder as a result of heavy insecticide spraying in nearby fields and has asked authorities to return him to his previous place of house arrest in Quang Ngai.

In the last issue, we also discussed the perilous situation of two prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, Ven. Thich Hai Tang of Linh Mu Pagoda in Hue, and Professor Doan Viet Hoat, former vice rector of the Buddhist Van Hanh University. We are happy to report that the situation of Thich Hai Tang has improved somewhat. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Professor Hoat. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet many Vietnamese refugees and have learned of the suffering they have endured during the war, in prison camps afterwards, fleeing on the high seas in leaky boats, or the pain of separation from their loved ones in Vietnam. But the ones who have suffered the most, it seems, are those whose loved ones are still detained in Vietnam. One such person is Tran Thi Thuc, the wife of Professor Hoat. Since leaving Vietnam two years ago, she has traveled around the world, urging the release of her husband and others detained for their beliefs in Vietnam. Let us join Thuc in her efforts. The following sample letter, that brings out the details of Professor Hoat's situation, may be used verbatim or as a model for your own letter. It can be faxed directly from the CML web site:

His Excellency Vo Van Kiet Chairman, Council of Ministers 1 Hoang Hoa Tham Street Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam Fax: 84-4-845-5464

Your Excellency,

It is with deep concern that we bring to your attention the suffering of Professor Doan Viet Hoat, former vice rector of Van Hanh University. He is serving a 15-year prison sentence for his nonviolent advocacy of a more democratic system in Vietnam. He is detained at Thanh Cam prison in a jungle area near the Lao border, 1,400 kilometers from his home.

We are especially worried about his frail health. He suffers from a serious kidney disorder and has been urinating blood. He has lost much weight and is extremely weak from malnutrition. His family has sent him abundant supplies of food, medicine, and money, but these do not seem to have reached him. Instead, he is fed barely enough rice to keep alive.

We are also worried about his isolation. His fellow inmates are hardened criminals. Visits by his family members have been extremely restricted. He has been forbidden to read any publications.

With these sad facts in mind, we appeal to you to:

  • Allow a team of medical doctors from an international human rights organization to visit him.
  • Allow Professor Hoat to receive all necessary supplies sent to him by his family.
  • Allow Professor Hoat to communicate with his family by mail.
  • Allow him visitation rights and allow family members from overseas to return to Vietnam to visit him.

Most importantly, we urge you to consider his immediate and unconditional release on humanitarian grounds and in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a signatory. While we understand that you may not share his political views, we hope you agree that a man's life—and the lives of his loved ones—should not be so deeply disrupted because he does not share the political views of the government and works nonviolently to change the society. Professor Hoat has spent almost all of the last 20 years in prison. Please release him and all other prisoners detained for the nonviolent expression of their dissent.

Respectfully, (Your signature)

Letters and/or faxes can also be sent to: His Excellency Do Muoi Secretary General Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam Fax: 84-4-825-920537

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