Monks, Nuns Face Deadline

Vietnamese followers of a leading Zen Buddhist seek asylum in France amid an escalating standoff.

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Thich-Nhat-Hanh-305.jpg Thich Nhat Hanh (R) at a pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, March 16, 2007.

BANGKOK—An international rights group has called on the European Union (EU) and other donors to step up pressure on Vietnam after a standoff between government supporters and followers of a top Zen Buddhist during a visit by EU diplomats to his monastery.

Some 400 disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh, who has helped to popularize Buddhism in the West, were evicted from the Bat Nha monastery in Lam Dong province in September.

Since then, nearly 200 have taken refuge at the nearby Phuoc Hue pagoda, but they have been ordered to leave by Dec. 31 and are now seeking asylum in France.

“We can no longer withstand the government’s intense pressure to disperse,” senior monk Thich Trung Hai wrote in a letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy posted online Thursday.

“We must turn to you to ask for temporary asylum in France so that we can remain together.”

Angry mobs

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said “mobs of 100 to 200 people … have moved in” to the Phuoc Hue monastery.

“They dragged the abbot out. They were shouting insults and demanding to expel the Bat Nha Buddhists,” she said, referring to disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh, a France-based Zen monk, peace activist, and confidant of slain U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

She said the mob had also assaulted those taking photographs, disrupting an EU fact-finding mission to the monastery, which was closely followed by a human rights dialogue with the Vietnamese authorities two days later.

“The European Union is one of the biggest donors [to Vietnam],” Pearson said.

“Given that this happened while members of the EU saw it with their own eyes, this really means that the EU needs to speak out strongly about what’s going on in Vietnam.”

Pearson called on Brussels, which has pressed strongly for religious freedom in Vietnam, to act ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline for the followers of Thich Nhat Hanh to leave the monastery.

The EU pledged U.$1 billion dollars in aid to Vietnam in early December.

“The fact that this could happen so soon afterwards, I think, makes it incumbent on the EU to be monitoring the situation,” Pearson said.

‘No way out’

Venerable Thich Thai Thuan, the abbot of Phuoc Hue temple, said a group of people had “entered the monastery violently” during the EU visit on Dec. 9, demanding that he send away a group of some 200 followers of Thich Nhat Hanh.

“I refused to sign the paper and went into my room, but they pounded on the door, demanding that I send the [Thich Nhat Hanh followers] away immediately,” he said at the time.

He said the government was adamant that the monks should leave.

“There’s no way out. They exerted pressure from all sides … The [state-controlled] Central Buddhist Church ... says that they cannot stay at the temple,” he said, indicating that the violence had continued in the wake of the diplomatic visit.

Earlier attack

“The mob came yesterday and smashed all the doors of the bell tower and lots of other doors and windows,” he said in a Dec. 11 interview.

“Many of them shoved the monks, and even spat on the heads of monk and nun followers of [Thich Nhat Hanh] who were sitting peacefully in Buddhist prayer.”

Eyewitness Bieu Nghiem said some of the attackers had been part of an earlier mob attack on the monastery on Sept. 27.

“One of the mob’s leaders was a woman who had splashed dirty water on us nuns,” she said.

“She was a leader of the mob and stood up to speak and interrupt the [Thich Nhat Hanh] followers who were trying to speak,” she said.

“She yelled out ‘Liar!’ and [demanded] that the followers leave the monastery.”

She said while EU delegates tried to calm the woman down so a discussion could begin, the leaders of the monastery were prevented from speaking.

“When the delegates were about to finish, the mob ran in and tried to force the abbot to sign a paper saying we would have to leave,” Nghiem said.

“The abbot refused to sign, and they forcefully pressured him for about two hours.”

Bid to dislodge monks

“It was very noisy and distressing, but he still refused ... The mob included people who never go to the temple. The real Buddhists who go to the temple were pushed out, and could not attend the meeting.”

Vietnam’s communist government, which closely monitors religious affairs, had been trying to remove the monks and nuns from the monastery for several months.

The government accuses Nhat Hanh’s followers of sowing discord and defying central authorities by worshipping without official approval. The monastics say they followed all necessary procedures and only want to meditate and practice together.

The authorities have described the standoff as a conflict between two Buddhist factions.

But Nhat Hanh’s followers believe the government is cracking down on them because their teacher has called on the communist government to end its control of religion and disband its religious police.

Original reporting by Gwen Ha in Vietnamese and by Richard Finney in English. Vietnamese service director: Khanh Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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Dec 24, 2009 07:35 PM


Dec 17, 2009 05:27 AM

Unfortunately the Vietnamese are acting very similar to the Chinese government in using lies and disinformation to discredit Thich Nhat Hahn and his followers. This is a stupid tactic on the part of both communist governments because the rest of the world is not fooled. We know well enough that both Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama are gentle men deserving the greatest respect. Vietnam and China are merely bringing shame upon their own governments and the result will be far fewer tourists in both China and Vietnam. I have already stopped buying products from both countries and I hope that other people will do the same. Furthermore Vietnam and China are doing serious damage to the cause of world socialism by their actions. This is not a time when they can manipulate public opinion as we have the Internet and people are free to shape their own beliefs.

Dec 25, 2009 02:40 AM

Ngueyn Ba Tran
90% of the Southern were Viet Cong. Viet Cong were those opposed the Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Van Thieu regimes. Idiots!

Dec 17, 2009 06:40 PM

Sheep and man are two different creatures. You choose what?

Dec 18, 2009 08:05 AM

Vietnam matter has not killed anyone and in fact Vietnam is practicing the unusual democracy! Vietnam is approaching every method to come out with a good result for everyone and have invited the EU special envoy to monitor the situation, but still disrupted by those did not like the Thay Thich Nhat Hanh’s order to be in Vietnam anymore. Vietnam has done very possible approach to make the life of the Vietnamese in Vietnam get better and help those affected by the chemical Orange Agent by humbly asked for the international economics development support and also Vietnam done a great job at the UN and she called the world to stop this everything. Is that better for Vietnam or better for the HRW? What is she, the Devil? I also sick with the overseas Vietnamese and particularly those in the US are being very stupid not to support Vietnam current policies toward economic development. I recommended every one of us to praise more for Vietnam achieving what they have achieved.

Dec 24, 2009 05:52 PM

Thanks to the Queen Eliz really, she told me I am allowed to exercise what whatever mental I got and the people replying who were replying to this article is or are the same person pretending to insult me. That is fine, you have the right to do it and are the freedom I got the right to from the UK and I have always respected.

Dec 17, 2009 05:13 AM

It sounds as if Vietnam is running into a third world war and need NATO Military support. This ladies Pearson does have any feeling toward the young Vietnamese children dying of the Orange Agent and have a lot of hatred toward the 83 million Vietnamese in general. This is a minor problem and is not a big issue to the world politics; she called the world to race against on Vietnam and stops all Aids. Is she really working for the HRW or the Mighty God of Hatred?
If Ms Pearson has nothing to do get another job and raise some children of your own may do you some good.

Dec 24, 2009 02:48 AM

Edwin Tran, you should commend you and your family members to create An Asian Buddhist Human Rights to monitor Vietnamese police and army to abuse powerless people, will be a good idea. You do not know anything, let shut up your mouth, no one scolds you deaf. You're living in UK, how come you stupid guy know the present situation in Vietnam than us by reading on Internet or by your Viet Cong mentors? What is sad of you, all your relatives died in Vietnam by Ngo Dinh Diem regime, North Vietnam saved your life and put you on the throne? Please think about South Vietnamese sacrified to fight ruthless communist regime.

Dec 20, 2009 12:32 AM

The World strongly condemn these Hanoi cowardy tactics to oust these non-violent people. This people blood sucker regime, the world community must put heavy punshiment by any means. First, they lured Thay Thich Nhat Hanh back to Vietnam so as to let WTO admit them as member also American administration removed them from religious restricted countries when they got their wicked plans done then turned against Thich Nhat Hanh and his followers forcefully. This is the most ungrateful regime of communist ever perpetrated. One Vietnamese slogan stated that Dont believe whatever CONG SANG said but watching Hanoi communist doing. For Edwin Tran, he is not so normal, he is seriously mentally ill. Please all do not mind him.

Dec 21, 2009 04:57 PM

I am recommending Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri lanka, Thai, Japan and China to form an Asia Buddhist Human Rights Group to counter the unnecessary of the current HRW is doing. Asia Buddhist Human Rights Group should adopt its own flag likes the Crescent moon of Islam. The current HR Group is very much a war mongering to those small countries and bullies organization. Countries faced with trades embargo, economic sanctions, children died from lack of medicines, an older or a pregnant woman died because they did not have the special treatments they should get and all of these started by the current Human Rights Group. It is reminding me of the policy introduced by President Ngo Ding Diem in South Vietnam. I am saddened if the HR Group is to continue this kind of works.

Dec 17, 2009 04:29 PM

This is the great rudest action of Hanoi Animal Communist to turn against the unarmed, peaceful and calm Buddhist Monks and Nuns. This regime will try all ways to eliminate these people by using their unduly gangsters. It is very serious concerned which needs the US government reconsider to put Vietnam back on the blacklist of country pressurized religious practices. Very positive sign of Elaine Pearson to call for more alert on this inhumane system as well as EU must put more pressure on Hanoi to give more freedom on religious belief and sternly condemn their oppressing manner. In fact, it is Hanoi robber habit used to be done constantly to the weaker like the case of Khmer Krom in An Giang province, they evicted, plundered Khmer Krom's land for the Vietnamese Kinh. Down with Hanoi, Long Live Democratic spiritual soul.

Dec 18, 2009 08:07 AM

Vicky, Ms. Pearson does have a problem. She is an evil hatred. Such a small matter like this could result if Thay Thich Nhat Hanh has contributed his voice to the problem. Thay Thich Nhat Hanh, however choose keep quiet, which is the way to do it and he should have not making any comments when he was welcomed back in Vietnam. The problem is simply too small to involved massive politics. We, the overseas Vietnamese like to kiss American and EU buts and caused many non-sense problems unnecessary.

Dec 23, 2009 05:34 PM

Only China, Vietnam, Laos and Burma should be in a group of Human Right Violators not Human rights protectors at all. Dont talk stupidly Edwin Tran. If you are mentally ill like Tran Huynh said so be silent and seeking treatment is better, do not keep it too long, it might be dangerous for your family and society. HRW working very transparently only violator countries such as China and our Vietnam do not satisfy.

Dec 18, 2009 08:06 AM

The HRW is a Catholics organization its head office in Rome and other major offices in the US and the EU and have no other religious representatives involved in this organization. How do they know what other religions wanted? They do not! They think everyone wanted them. The Vietnamese Buddhist did not ask them for intervened! They did without a request. Thay thich Nhat Hanh is a small group and does not represent for the mass Buddhist group in Vietnam. No government wanted to upset the peaceful Buddhist group in Vietnam because they are the patriot.

Dec 20, 2009 10:17 PM

Not only Vietnam's communist country but many other ones has been stepping up pressure on the religious freedom, and for a short time will spread to Cambodia, because vietnam is big boss of Cambodia.Pressure on the religious freedom in vietnam is bad actions of vioetnamese that they used to use these to Cambodia violently for a long time.

Dec 17, 2009 01:54 PM

Edwin Tran, you sound like a Vietnamese police agent. Agent orange is not an excuse for your government to abuse the rights to practice faith. And please don't be sexist. Ms. Pearson's opinion is sound and based on facts. You are welcomed to dispute it with correct facts, not propaganda, and definitely not with personal attacks on Ms. Pearson. Your tactic is another lame attempt to spin the ugly situation in Bat Nha.

Dec 18, 2009 08:03 AM

Mr. Nguyen Cao sounds as if he is a Buddha with a back dress and white color on his neck; down the Hanoi and long live with democracy spiritual soul! What do you mean? You want Vietnam to become like Tibet? Vietnam will not be like Tibet and Vietnam will fight anyone who strikes its mother land. You only get Vietnam if you killed all Vietnamese to its grass roots!