Khmer Krom Buddhists say they face persecution at Vietnam pagoda

The government removed the abbot following violent clashes at Dai Tho Pagoda.
By RFA Vietnamese
Khmer Krom Buddhists say they face persecution at Vietnam pagoda Dai Tho Pagoda in Vinh Long province.

Updated Dec. 05, 2023, 11:08 p.m. ET.

A Buddhist pagoda serving the ethnic Khmer Krom group in Vietnam’s Vinh Long province has long been the target of government-backed religious repression, a senior monk at the Dai Tho Pagoda told Radio Free Asia.

On Monday, state-controlled media reported that the pagoda’s abbot, Thach Chanh Da Ra, had been stripped of his position for violating the charter of the government-approved Vietnam Buddhist Sangha and breaking state laws.

Duong Khai, in charge of security and protecting the heritage of the pagoda, told RFA the monks suffered government harassment because they practiced Therevada, the type of Buddhism followed by most Khmer Krom in Vietnam.

Duong Khai said people in plain clothes often threatened monks at the pagoda and the government confiscated the bicycles they used to travel the neighborhood collecting alms.

Tensions came to a head on Nov. 22, when a working group from the Tam Binh District People’s Committee, representatives of the Loan My Commune People’s Committee and two Buddhists representing locals visited Dai Tho Pagoda, according to the Tuoi Tre newspaper.

It said abbot Thach Chanh Da Ra incited people to attack the visitors and then locked them in the main hall, preventing them from leaving.

Duong Khai described events differently from the state-controlled newspaper.

"When the abbot took out his phone, one of the officials hit the phone with his elbow, then a representative of the State government kicked the phone outside allowing plainclothes police to take it away.

“The abbot fell and when they kicked the phone they hit the abbot’s finger, making it bleed. His knee was scratched when he fell so the abbot brought the government people into the main hall to make them apologize according to old customs.”

According to a video provided by locals at the time, monks holding sticks protected the inside of the temple yard while outside people in civilian clothes yelled, cursed and finally kicked down the temple door.

According to the Tuoi Tre newspaper monks agreed to release members of the working group at around 4 p.m. It did not mention anyone kicking down the door.

RFA called the Tam Binh district police on Tuesday to check details of the case but the officer on duty asked the reporter to visit in person to get the information.

According to RFA Khmer, Thach Chanh Da Ra was targeted by authorities because he welcomed Khmer Krom activists like Duong Khai at the Dai Tho pagoda.

Nearly 1.3-million Khmer Krom live in a part of Vietnam that was once southeastern Cambodia. They have faced serious restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and movement.

“The Vietnamese government has long sought to restrict and control the Khmer Krom temples because they understand the pivotal role that Theravadan Buddhism plays in Khmer Krom culture and society,” Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told RFA.

“This latest example of the authorities’ blatant interference in the Khmer Krom people’s freedom of religion and belief is outrageous and unacceptable and the U.N. and foreign embassies in Vietnam should strongly condemn this intrusion.”

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

Updated to include comments from Human Rights Watch.


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