By Stephen Denney
In the last issue of The Mindfulness Bell (Spring 1995), we reported the arrests in late December 1994 and early January 1995 of two high-ranking monks of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBC): Thich Huyen Quang, age 77, UBC Executive Director; and Thich Quang Do, age 68, UBC General Secretary. Ven. Huyen Quang was moved to a ruined temple outside Quang Ngai City of central Vietnam. (See the next page for an account.) Ven. Quang Do was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City. Their arrests stemmed from their continuing protests of the government's human rights violations in general and its policies toward Buddhists in particular.
On August 15, after eight months of detention, Ven. Quang Do was brought to trial, along with five other members of the Unified Buddhist Church. Ven. Quang Do was sentenced to five years in prison; Ven. Thich Khong Tanh also to five years; Ven. Thich Nhat Bang to four years; Ven. Thich Tri Luc to 2-1/2 years; Nhat Thuong, a layman, to three years; and Mrs. Dong Ngoc was given a two-year suspended sentence and three years' probation. The trial lasted one day. A Voice of Vietnam broadcast indicated that Ven. Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Long Tri, the third highest ranking member of the UBC, may also be brought to trial soon.
The defendants were charged with "undermining the policy of unity," which appeared to be based on their efforts to carry out religious and social work in the name of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. The UBC was forcibly "merged" by the government in 1981 into its own state-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church. In subsequent years, courageous monks like Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do have been subjected to severe persecution for protesting this arrangement. In fact, both these senior monks have spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest or in prison for no crime other than urging their government to develop a more compassionate and democratic policy toward the people of Vietnam.
In late August, Sister Chan Khong wrote a letter that was sent out to nearly 8,000 people, asking them to send faxes to Vietnam's Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, Vietnam Communist Party Secretary General Do Muoi, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, and congressional representatives and senators expressing concern. Sample letters were enclosed. If you have not already seen this "Urgent Action" mailing and would like to receive copies of these letters, please contact the Community of Mindful Living. It is important to send letters quickly, because it is unlikely these monks will be able to endure many more years in prison given their age and declining health. Nor does it bode well for Buddhism in Vietnam when only one, state-sponsored Buddhist Church is allowed to exist in the country.
Our past actions on behalf of imprisoned monks and nuns in Vietnam have been effective in persuading the government to release them or reduce their prison sentences. Many of you sent faxes to Hanoi in 1988 urging clemency for Thich Tue Sy and Thich Tri Sieu after they were sentenced to death on antigovernment charges. Their death sentences were commuted to 20 years' imprisonment. Many thanks to all of you who have participated in this effort. Please continue the good work.
Stephen Denney is editor of Vietnam Journal and a long-time activist for human rights in Southeast Asia. To subscribe to Vietnam Journal ($8 per year), write P.O. Box 1163, Burlingame, CA 94011.