Thich Quang Do meets top-level US State Department delegation and prepares to visit UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang in Binh Dinh
The Very Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) received a two-hour visit today (Sunday 21st November at 2.30pm) from a delegation of US diplomats at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. This top-level delegation included Ms Elisabeth Dugan, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Mr Seth D. Winnick, US Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City and four diplomats from the U.S. State Department and Consulate. This is the first time the UBCV Deputy leader has been allowed to receive visits since he was arrested in a government crackdown on the UBCV on 9, October 2003. The US Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, John Hanford III, who asked to meet Thich Quang Do during an in situ visit to Vietnam in October 2003, was refused permission to meet the UBCV Deputy on the grounds that he was “under investigation for possessing state secrets”.
“The fact that Vietnam has authorized this first diplomatic visit is a very positive sign”, said Vo Van Ai, Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) and international spokesman of the banned UBCV. “We sincerely hope it heralds the beginning of a process of increased freedom for all religious denominations, and in particular, for the legalization of the outlawed UBCV”.
In a telephone conversation with IBIB Director Vo Van Ai – which was cut off repeatedly - Thich Quang Do said that the meeting was extremely positive and friendly. He told the U.S. delegation about the current plight of the banned UBCV, and urged them to closely monitor human rights violations in Vietnam and support all peaceful efforts for religious freedom and democratic reform. The U.S. delegation informed Thich Quang Do of the State Department’s recent decision to designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” for its egregious violations of religious freedom, and explained the various sanctions that can be applied against “CPCs” under the 1998 US International Religious Freedom Act.
Thich Quang Do informed the U.S. delegation that he would be setting of for Binh Dinh province tomorrow morning (Monday) at 6.00 am to visit UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang. The 87-year-old Patriarch is currently seriously ill. He was taken into Quy Nhon General Hospital on Thursday suffering from a stomach hemorrhage. This will be the first time in over a year that Thich Quang Do has travelled outside Ho Chi Minh City. He has been detained in total isolation, forbidden to travel or receive visits, since he was placed under administrative detention by verbal orders of the local authorities on 9, October 2003.
This afternoon, however, shortly after the U.S. delegation’s visit, Thich Quang Do received a summons from the Phu Nhuan District People’s Committee (local Communist Party authorities) for “working sessions” (i.e. interrogation) on Monday morning at 8.00am. Thich Quang Do replied that he cannot attend the session because he is leaving for Binh Dinh.
Whilst Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung formally confirmed that Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do were both placed under “investigation” last year, the Vietnamese authorities have continually asserted that the two UBCV leaders are “free”. In a report to the UN General Assembly in September 2004, the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief, Ms Asma Jahangir, made public Vietnam’s statement that “Thich Quang Do and Thich Huyen Quang are neither under house arrest nor under administrative detention”.
Thich Quang Do’s planned trip tomorrow morning will put Vietnam’s statement to the test. Asked whether he expected to be intercepted by Police, Thich Quang Do replied: “It is perfectly natural for any Vietnamese citizen, not only Buddhist monks, to pay their respects to their elders who are sick and in need. Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang’s situation is extremely grave – if the Vietnamese authorities have a modicum of humanity, they will not attempt to prevent me from making this trip”.
At the same time, today (Sunday 21st November) at 3.00 pm, the new U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Michael W. Marine, visited Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang at the General Hospital in Quy Nhon. Given the Patriarch’s very weak condition, Ambassador Marine simply stayed for 15 minutes with Thich Huyen Quang.