A Vietnamese activist from a banned Buddhist group has been interrogated and threatened with punishment over articles he wrote criticizing Hanoi’s policies on religion and a territorial dispute with China.
Police in central Vietnam’s Thua Thien-Hue province questioned Le Cong Cau, who heads the youth movement of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), for three days last week and told him they had sufficient evidence to charge him with undermining unity and conducting anti-state propaganda.
Cau, 62, who coordinates the UBCV’s activities in the province, had written articles advocating political pluralism and accusing the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party of religious persecution, repressing prodemocracy and human rights advocates, and failing to stand up to China in a dispute over islands in the South China Sea.
Cau had not posted the articles himself, but had sent them to the International Buddhist Information Bureau, a Paris-based rights group affiliated with the UBCV, which circulated them online.
On Friday, at the end of his interrogation by provincial and municipal security police in Thua Thien Hue’s Truong An district, Cau signed a statement affirming he had written the articles, but refused to recognize doing so as a crime.
In the statement, he also made it clear that what he said was fully in line with Vietnam’s constitution, but police struck that part out.
In an interview with RFA’s Vietnamese service following the interrogation, Cau said he stood by what he had written and that he believes Vietnam should move away from one-party Communist rule.
“I think if we all unify, we will have our victory over the authoritarian party and the despotic regime to move forward to political pluralism. That is the only way to progress forward.”
“The [Vietnamese Communist] Party should announce that they have accomplished their historical mission and hand over the ruling of the country to the people so we will move forward to pluralism and a multiparty system,” he said.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, another Paris-based rights group affiliated with the UBCV, said in a statement Tuesday that it is “deeply concerned” about Cau’s security since the interrogation.
According to what police told him, Cau could face charges under Article 87 of the Criminal Code for “sowing divisions between the religious and non-religious people,” and under Article 88 for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
The offenses carry punishments of up to 15 and 20 years in prison, respectively.
A slew of bloggers, dissidents, and citizen journalists have been jailed under Article 88 in recent years, and international rights groups and press freedom watchdogs have accused Hanoi of using the vaguely worded provision to silence dissent.
UBCV members have called on the Communist Party to change laws guiding religious freedom in Vietnam, where religious activity is strictly monitored and groups must be supervised by government-controlled management boards.
The UBCV was effectively banned in 1981 and supplanted by the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, which is controlled by the Communist Party’s Fatherland Front.
But the UBCV’s 500,000-member Youth Movement Commission, headed by Cau, has semiofficial status, and focuses on social, educational, and humanitarian activities that are tolerated by the government.
Last week UBCV patriarch Thich Quang Do, who is under house arrest at his monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, warned that Vietnam’s leaders face a backlash if they do not respond to mounting online calls for amendments to Vietnam’s constitution aimed at putting an end to one-party rule.
Reported by Y. Lan for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.