Top Vietnamese Buddhist Slams Detentions Amid Ongoing Crackdown


Therese Jebson. Photo courtesy Rafto Foundation.

BANGKOK—A top dissident Buddhist leader in Vietnam has spoken out against the detention in Ho Chi Minh City of a Norwegian woman who came to present him with a prestigious human rights award, amid signs of a tough new crackdown on dissent.

Thich Quang Do, deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), said in an interview that Vietnamese security officers intercepted Therese Jebsen of the Oslo-based Rafto Foundation as she arrived at Thanh Minh Zen monastery, where Do lives under virtual house arrest.

“I went into the courtyard to greet her with a bouquet of flowers. But…a group of Security Police burst in,” Do told RFA’s Vietnamese service.

“One of them was in uniform and the others were plainclothes officers. They intercepted us and ordered Therese Jebsen to come with them to the police station.”

“I tried to persuade them that she was a foreign guest who has come a long way to meet me, that is was just a friendly visit… I asked them to show her some hospitality and let me meet with her for 30 minutes, and then I could take her to the police station,” he said. “But the police insisted that she come with them immediately.”

I tried to persuade them that she was a foreign guest who has come a long way to meet me, that is was just a friendly visit… I asked them to show her some hospitality and let me meet with her for 30 minutes,

Three people detained, questioned

“I feel sorry for Therese Jebsen. I feel such pity for her. Also, I feel deeply sad. I am sad and ashamed for my country,” Do said.

The Rafto Foundation said in a statement that police had detained Jebsen, along with Vietnamese-born interpreter Kieu Tran and Norwegian television journalist Tom Rune Orset. They were questioned for two hours and released, it said. No comment was immediately available from the Vietnamese authorities.

The foundation chairman, Arne Lynngard, wrote to Vietnamese officials seeking permission to visit in February to present Do with the 2006 Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize, it said. But his request was denied.

‘One of the worst crackdowns’

Do was earlier denied permission to travel to Norway to receive the prize. Four other Rafto prize winners have later been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Do’s UBCV has long resisted pressure to join the officially sanctioned Buddhist Church of Vietnam. Do and UBCV leader Thich Huyen Quang have lived under virtual house arrest, under strict surveillance, for years.

On March 9, Human Rights Watch accused Hanoi of “flouting its international commitments on human rights by launching one of the worst crackdowns on peaceful dissidents in 20 years.”

Le Quoc Quan, a lawyer and World Bank consultant who recently spent five months doing independent research on civil-society development on a Fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy, was detained March 8, Vietnamese sources said.

Quan’s wife told RFA he is being held at a temporary prison run by the Ministry of Public Security in Thanh Tri, Hanoi, but he has been barred from receiving visitors or food from home.

The search warrant issued for their home, she said, accused Quan of “committing Article 79 of the criminal code, or conspiracy to overthrow the people’s government.”

On March 6, police arrested Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan in Hanoi. Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyers, founded the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam in 2006. Le Thi Cong Nhan, also a lawyer, has served as spokesperson for the newly formed opposition Dang Thang Tien Vietnam Party.

On Feb. 18, dozens of police in Hue raided the parish home of Catholic priest and former prisoner of conscience Father Nguyen Van Ly, seizing computers, phones, and documents. Ly last year helped found the pro-democracy group Bloc 8406.

Ly, Dai, and Nhan have all been charged with carrying out propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, under Article 88 of the criminal code, Human Rights Watch said. Conviction would carry a prison term of up to 20 years.

Original reporting by Y Lan and Tra My for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Edited and produced for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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