Vietnamese authorities in the southern coastal province of Ba Ria Vung Tao have begun a campaign of harassment against a small, independent Buddhist church operating outside of government control, sending mobs to harass community members and block access to their building, sources say.
The crackdown against the Dat Quang pagoda, a temple of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam located in Bau Lam village in the province’s Xuyen Moc district, was launched at about noon on Oct. 6, a senior pagoda monk told RFA’s Vietnamese Service this week.
“Provincial authorities sent a large group of people to our place to harass our members, and we had only one way to counter their attack, which was to sit in protest and pray,” the monk, Thich Vinh Phuoc, said.
“They blocked all access to our temple and stopped anybody who wanted to come in,” Phuoc said, adding, “They even sprayed some kind of gas from the temple roof onto people who were sitting inside.”
When one community member, Nguyen Thanh Cong, learned what was happening, he rushed to the scene to defend the temple and his friends, Phuoc said.
“He was detained by police and taken to the Bau Lam Village People’s Office, where a policeman struck him on the head, knocking him unconscious.”
Family members were at first prevented by police from taking Cong to a hospital for treatment, but were eventually allowed to proceed, Phuoc said.
“We do not belong to the government-controlled church,” Phuoc said, explaining the reasons for the attack.
“They always oppress the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam,” he added.
“We are under the leadership of Venerable Thich Thanh Tinh, who was jailed by the communist government for many years,” Phuoc said.
“He was arrested in 1992 and 1993 and was released in 2000. He came to live with us in 2001.”
Established in a modest village house in 1975, the Dat Quang Pagoda has physically deteriorated and needs work, but structural repairs have been blocked by local authorities, Phuoc said.
“Right from the beginning, they would not recognize us. They would not even let us register our residents, so why would they allow us to undertake repairs?” he asked.
Called by a reporter on Monday, provincial religious affairs Nguyen Van Ron declined comment and referred the caller to district-level authorities, who also refused to speak.
“I’m not authorized to talk about this, so please direct your questions somewhere else,” Lam Quang Dung, director of the Xuyen Moc District People’s Office, said.
“According to the rules, I’m not allowed to answer your questions.”
Vietnam, under one-party communist rule, continues to “severely restrict independent religious practice, and repress individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority,” the congressionally mandated U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms (USCIRF) said in an annual report released in April.
The State Department included Vietnam on its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) in 2004 but removed it from the blacklist two years later amid improving diplomatic relations, and has since ignored repeated calls from the commission to reinstate the country’s designation.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Hanh Seide. Written in English by Richard Finney.