By Stephen Denney
Thank you for your concern about the people suffering in Vietnam and your desire to help. At the Community of Mindful Living we have organized a program of humanitarian aid to the poorest people of Vietnam and have also circulated many appeals on behalf of imprisoned monks and other prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.
With regard to the latter issue, we are pleased that there is more individual freedom in Vietnam than a few years ago, and that many prisoners of conscience have been released. People also have more freedom to participate in ordinary religious services than before. However, the Communist Party is still very afraid of losing power in Vietnam and for this reason punishes harshly those who openly challenge their political policies.
Among those detained are Venerables Thich Quang Do (age 69) and Thich Huyen Quang (age 77). They have been punished because of their leadership positions within the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and open protests of the government's forced incorporation of the UBCV into a state-sponsored Buddhist Church. Ven. Quang Do was sentenced to five years in prison at a Jan. 1995 trial and is presently detained at B 14 prison in Hanoi. Ven. Thich Huyen Quang has been under house arrest for several years in central Vietnam (Quang Ngai province), is closely guarded and in poor health. Both monks are highly respected abroad and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 by the Irish recipients from the previous year.
Several other Buddhist monks have been arrested for supporting the protests of Venerables Quang Do and Huyen Quang. Among these are the following monks who were sentenced in 1995: Thich Khong Tanh (five years), Thich Nhat Bang (four years), Nhat Thuong (three years) and Thich Tri Luc ( two and a half years). They 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.
Other monks imprisoned include Thich Tue Sy and Thich Tri Sieu, both serving 20 years (sentenced in 1988) for their nonviolent opposition to government policies; and Thich Hai Thinh and Thich Hai Chanh, who were arrested during a police raid on the Linh Mu Pagoda in Hue. These two monks had previously been detained from 1993 to 1995 for their involvement in a demonstration. In addition there are a number of prisoners of conscience:
- Nguyen Dinh Huy, age 64, arrested in November 1993 along with ten other members of his movement for a democratic society in Vietnam. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in August 1995. He and six colleagues remain detained. Amnesty International has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. He is presently detained in Z30A prison camp of Xuan Loc, Dong Nai province.
- Doan Viet Hoat, age 53, former professor of the Buddhist Van Hanh University in Saigon, was arrested and sentenced in 1990 to 20 years in prison (later reduced to 15 years) for leading a group of southern intellectuals who advocated a more democratic society in Vietnam. He is presently detained in the north under harsh conditions.
- Nguyen Dan Que, a medical doctor from Saigon, was also arrested and sentenced in 1990 to 20 years in prison for advocating political democracy.
- Phan Duc Kham, age 64, serving 12 years in prison for his involvement with the Freedom Forum group led by Doan Viet Hoat.
Our other human rights concerns in Vietnam include unfair political trials, increased use of the death penalty, and poor conditions in the prisons and re-education camps.
Stephen Denney is editor of Vietnam Journal and a longtime activist for human rights in Southeast Asia.