Religious and civil society groups have appealed for foreign support following the destruction by local authorities of a popular Buddhist pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City.
Representatives from more than twenty organisations and religious sects said that foreign pressure was needed to stop the government’s repression of religious freedom.
Hundreds of police and security officials sealed off the Lien Tri pagoda in the city’s District 2 on September 8 and then stormed the seventy year old structure and evicted all the monks.
They later demolished the building after sending all its statues and other religious artefacts to a new site.
The pagoda was run by the Unified Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam, which is not recognised by the government, and had been a focal point for civil society groups.
The abbot, the Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, was taken to hospital after being evicted and was reported to be suffering from shock.
The local authorities had designated the land for housing development but had failed to persuade the monks to accept compensation and move to the new site.
“We strongly condemn the communist government for using groundless and perverse articles of laws to evict people from their properties for its business and financial interests,” said representatives of 25 political, religious and civil society organizations in a note of protest.
They include unregistered religious groups, the Civil Society Forum led by Dr. Nguyen Quang A, Bauxite Vietnam and the Interfaith Council of Vietnam.
They said similar land evictions across the country had driven large numbers of people to destitution.
The note said the authorities were trampling on religious freedoms guaranteed by the law, and warned that those responsible would some day be held accountable for their actions.
“The United States should return Vietnam to the list of countries of particular concern for violations of human rights, especially continued religious freedom, and policies to illegally benefit the Communist party,” said the declaration, which also called for pressure from European countries.
Catholic leaders and representatives of unregistered branches of the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects went to the hospital to show their solidarity with the Venerable Tanh.
They said plainclothes police were stationed at the hospital to record the names of visitors and that they had tried to prevent the entry of some visitors.
Tanh has been imprisoned three times over the last 16 years after being accused of opposing government policies and undermining national unity.
Rights groups have recorded 31 violations of religious freedom by the authorities over the last six months.
Observers see no sign that the Communist leadership intends to ease pressure on religious groups that refuse to conform to state regulations.