A leader of an unsanctioned Hoa Hao Buddhist group in southwestern Vietnam slit his belly to protest a police attack on followers celebrating the anniversary of the sect's founding this week.
Vo Van Thanh Liem, the once-imprisoned head of the Quang Minh Tu pagoda in Choi Moi district of An Giang province, slashed his stomach after police blocked his followers from worshiping at the pagoda on Tuesday.
More than 100 police and security forces had beaten and thrown chairs at and sprayed dirty sewage water on worshipers on both Monday and Tuesday, followers said.
The worshipers were trying to gather at the pagoda to observe the 74th anniversary of the founding of Hoa Hao, sect indigenous to Vietnam which which has some 2 million followers countrywide.
Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the religion but imposes harsh controls on dissenting Hoa Hao groups who do not follow the state-sanctioned branch.
Liem’s brother Vo Van Diem said the leader had cut his belly to protest police harassment.
“My brother slit his belly and the cut is more than 1 centimeter [half an inch] deep and 10 centimeters [4 inches] long,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“After seeing that, the police left. My brother fainted and we carried him to my mother’s house,” where they treated him and others injured in the attack, he said.
The police had set up fences along the road to the pagoda and blocked the worshipers from going there, he said.
“Policemen threw chairs at us, and they sprayed dirty water on us…. They also cursed at us,” he said.
Followers of unsanctioned Hoa Hao branches have faced imprisonment over their beliefs, including Liem, who has been in jail 34 times and was most recently released from a six-year jail sentence in February last year.
Barred from pagoda
A member of the group that was attacked said the police had told the Quang Minh Tu worshipers to go to another Hoa Hao pagoda that is sanctioned by the government.
“They told us that they would not let us go in to the pagoda and did not give any reason,” the woman, named Tuyet, said.
“They told us to go the Hoa Hao church registered with the government,” she said.
To block them from the church, police had thrown chairs at women’s heads and hit the men in the stomach, said Tuyet, whose nephew was injured when he was hit by a chair in a similar attack the day before.
On Monday, police had attacked a group of 20 people who were going to Quang Minh Tu after beginning preparations for the anniversary commemoration at Liem’s mother’s house, worshipers said.
Phone calls to local police to inquire about the attacks rang unanswered on Friday.
Rights groups have said authorities in An Giang and Dong Thap provinces, have regularly harassed followers of the unsanctioned Hoa Hao branches, prohibiting public readings of founder Huynh Phu So’s writings and discouraging worshipers from visiting pagodas in An Giang, Vinh Long, Dong Thap, and Can Tho provinces.
Reported by An Nhien for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.