(RFA) – Vietnamese plainclothes security agents have assaulted a prominent monk as part of a greater crackdown on the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) following its announcement of a new executive committee, an affiliated advocacy group said on Jan 14.
Thich Chon Tam, the newly appointed secretary general of UBCV’s Institute of the Sangha, was “intercepted and assaulted” as he was riding his motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City, the UBCV-affiliated International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) said in a statement.
“As he stopped at a red traffic light near Nguyen Van Cu bridge, a car pulled up in front of him,” IBIB said.
“Another car then rammed into his motorbike from behind. Plainclothes security agents got out and began to assault him.”
Tam, who is assistant to UBCV leader and prominent dissident Thich Quang Do, appealed for help from passersby, and as a crowd began to form, a third car pulled up containing a man who appeared to be the assailants’ chief, telling them “that’s enough for now” before they moved on, IBIB said.
The monk has been the target of “close police surveillance and harassment for several days,” the statement said.
On Jan. 8, Tam was expelled from the North Central Coast province of Thua Thien-Hue and forced to return to Ho Chi Minh City by security police after he attempted to attend a UBCV commemoration service, organized by the group’s newly appointed deputy leader Thich Nhu Dat, IBIB said.
Since then the authorities have kept a permanent watch on the Tu Hieu Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, where Tam is in temporary residence, and “follow him wherever he goes,” it said.
IBIB quoted Tam as saying that Vietnam was simply paying lip service to its support for the Buddhist religion by agreeing to host the 2014 United Nations Day of Vesak, or Buddha’s birthday, and an international Buddhism conference in the northern province of Ninh Binh in May.
“How can Vietnam host U.N. International Vesak Day when police beat and intimidate Buddhist monks in broad daylight on the streets of Saigon [Ho Chi Minh City]?” Tam asked.
IBIB said that police harassment of the monk was part of “an ongoing crackdown on members of the new UBCV executive” who, like Tam, were announced by Thich Quang Do earlier this month.
It said that repression has been particularly harsh in Hue, the capital of Thua Thien-Hue province, where police prevented Thich Nhu Dat from organizing the UBCV commemoration service at the Long Quang pagoda on Jan. 10.
Dat told RFA’s Vietnamese Service last week that the government had actively prevented Buddhists from attending the ceremony beginning on Jan. 1, and had stepped up efforts from Jan. 7-9 in a number of different provinces.
“Many monks and nuns were terrorized and stopped from going to the ceremony,” he said.
“In Hue, most of the leaders of the [UBCV] were summoned by the police or kept inside their houses.”
Dat said that Buddhists near Long Quang pagoda were “invited”—a common euphemism for being forced against their will—to attend a lecture about how the UBCV is illegal and how joining it is in violation of the law.
The lecture also referred to Dat as a “reactionary element” and warned the Buddhists in attendance that anybody who went to the commemoration service at Long Quang pagoda would be detained.
“They [the police] set up many checkpoints from the pagoda to Highway No. 1 to stop people from going to the ceremony,” Dat said.
“They mobilized vans to block roads to the pagoda. Many security guards were sent to this area.”
Dat said that the commemoration service was an annual tradition held by the UBCV over the past five decades and had nothing to do with political activity.
“I think they did this to threaten the office that I lead and as an attempt to prevent us from our mission—fighting for our church and the freedom of the Vietnamese people,” he said.
“We went ahead and announced the new staff for our office. I believe that was the reason they were worried and determined to stop us [from holding the commemoration].”
Dat told IBIB that he and his monks went ahead with the commemoration service despite the ban, but that police intercepted and harassed a total of 300 UBCV monks, nuns, and youth leaders from all over southern and central Vietnam who had been invited to the event.
IBIB said Tuesday that since the crackdown began on Jan. 1, police had placed a total of 23 members of the UBCV-affiliated Buddhist Youth Movement (BYM) under house arrest in Hue, including the group’s leader and newly appointed secretary general of the UBCV’s Executive Institute Le Cong Cau.
Cau was arrested on Jan. 1 and remains under house arrest, where he is forbidden to go outside or to receive visitors.
“Police are stationed outside his door and he is subjected to ‘working sessions’ (interrogations) twice each day,” IBIB said.
“Police threaten to imprison him if he does not step down from his post in the UBCV. At the end of each working session, the security police warn, ‘With just one signature we can throw you in jail’.”
Also under house arrest, according to IBIB, are Ho Nguyen Minh, Ho Van Nich, Hoang Nhu Dao, Hoang Tanh, Hoang Thi Hong Phuong, Le Nhat Thinh, Le Van Thanh, Ngo Duc Tien, Nguyen Chien, Nguyen Dinh Mong, Nguyen Duc Khoa, Nguyen Sac, Nguyen Tat Truc, Nguyen Thi Huong, Nguyen Van De, Truong Dien Hieu, Truong Minh Dung, Truong Trong Thao, Van Dinh An, Van Dinh Tat, Van Thi Hieu, and Van Tien Nhi.
BYM, headed by Cau, is an educational organization affiliated to the UBCV with about 500,000 members in Vietnam.
Although the UBCV is banned by the communist authorities, BYM has a semiofficial status because of its widespread social, humanitarian, and educational activities, which are tolerated by government.
IBIB also said that early on Jan. 10, as another leading monk Thich Thanh Quang and young nun Thich Nu Dong Hieu ordered a car from the Giac Minh Pagoda in central Vietnam’s Danang city to take them to Hue for the commemoration service, security officers surrounded the complex and forced them back inside.
Later that morning, a crowd of security police broke into the pagoda, and when Quang ordered them to leave the premises, one officer attacked Hieu, “slapping her repeatedly in the face until she fainted.”
IBIB condemned police harassment of Buddhists in Vietnam and called on the international community to press the government for specific improvements in freedom of religion at its upcoming Universal Periodic Review at the U.N. Human Rights Council in February.