Declaration by the Interfaith Council of Vietnam on the Communist Government’s Destruction of Lien Tri Pagoda
- Dignitaries and religious worshipers in Vietnam
- Vietnamese compatriots at home and abroad
- Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
- Democratic governments around the world
- International human rights organisations
- International Press Agencies
On August 18th 2014, authorities of An Khanh Ward of District 2 in the city of Saigon sent a “letter of invitation” and an “attached appendix” (unsigned, with no indication of jurisdiction, and without any legal grounds) to the Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, Deputy Director and Commissioner for Humanitarian and Social Affairs of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), of a notice in which Lien Tri Pagoda in Thu Duc, where the monk resides, would be demolished. According to the “attached appendix,” authorities made threatening statements to commence “implementing administrative measures to confiscate…” the lands surrounding Lien Tri Pagoda on September 8th.
In protest, Venerable Thich Khong Tanh wrote a letter on August 21st 2014 giving two suggestions and two declarations. He urged Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the People’s Committee (of Saigon) to “stop the surveillance, isolation, harassment, and persecution by the security police toward Lien Tri Pagoda” and to “respect religious freedom and human rights by suspending the demolition of Lien Tri Pagoda for commercial gain.” Venerable Tanh declared that he will reject compensations of 5,418,076,120 VND (approximately $256,000 USD) from the People’s Committee of District 2 for the “demolition of Lien Tri Pagoda” and will “organize a hunger strike and prayer service for religious freedom and human rights in Vietnam….”
In light of these events and in the spirit of communion and righteousness, the Interfaith Council of Vietnam affirms the following:
1. The Thu Thiem Development Zone (a 930 hecta area in which Lien Tri Pagoda is located) for many decades has been seen by real estate developers as the “land of gold.” Motivated by greed, land grabs of 15,000 households and religious institutions in the region, wherein land were forcibly confiscated with a lengthy and drawn-out process for compensation, has generated a large number of legal complaints (11,000 have been filed). Such land grabs has been the cause of violence and assaults, resulting in long prison sentences as well as deaths of farmers who have lost their land in despair. For a long time, public opinion has been against the construction project of the Thu Thiem Development Zone as one of the most brutal expropriation cases in Vietnam under the Communist regime, jointly carried out by the People’s Committee, the security police, thugs, the courts, and the Party itself.
2. As one of three remaining religious establishments within the proximity of this valued land (including the Thu Thiem Catholic Church and the Convent for the Lovers of the Holy Cross, whereas the Mennonite Church has long been wiped out), Lien Tri Pagoda and religious leaders such as Venerable Thich Khong Tanh (who has been jailed three times by the regime, totaling 20 years) is the latest target of “sabotage” campaigns for commercial gain.
Indeed, for a long time, as Commissioner for Humanitarian and Social Affairs of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, the Venerable Tanh has transformed Lien Tri Pagoda into an institution to carry out the compassionate work of Buddha, regularly administering humanitarian aid to the poor, elderly, disabled, and in particular, disabled war veterans of the Republic of Vietnam, who even today the regime and the Communist government continue to hate, oppress, discriminate, and marginalize.
Since early this year, Lien Tri Pagoda has regularly opened its doors to serve as an open, compassionate space for the activities of independent civil society organizations–in line with one of 14 commitments to openness made by the Vietnamese government before the United Nations Human Rights Council in October of last year. However, many civil society organizations have had to face barricades of security police and piles of concrete that blocked the path leading to the Pagoda where cars could not pass. The Pagoda and its leaders have become a thorn to a authoritarian and atheist government that have never accepted an independent civil society and has endlessly opposed independent religious organizations.
3. In existence in Thu Thiem for more than half a century as a place of hope and compassion for its community, Lien Tri Pagoda has the right to exist and to survive in this new development, which is a planned neighbourhood and not a military zone or an industrial area. This is where people need religious institutions and Lien Tri Pagoda and its related properties and assets should not be demolished.
As such, two years ago, on September 17th 2012, Venerable Thich Khong Tanh wrote a letter to the government of Vietnam protesting the demolition of Lien Tri Pagoda, and yet today, the government remain determined to wipe out an important spiritual base and go through with their decision. Is this so they may be able to casually commit wrongdoing, even crimes, without fear of religious objections (as in Communist China and North Korea)? Is this so they may be able to continue to destroy the traditions and values of the Vietnamese people, as they have been doing for more than half a century?
4. In solidarity with members of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and voices of individuals and organizations at home and abroad, the Interfaith Council of Vietnam strongly opposes the demolition of Lien Tri Pagoda and the land grab of Lien Tri by the Communist authorities. We fully support Venerable Tanh’s declaration of dissent. The dictatorial and atheist government should not think that they can do whatever they please in this country, however immoral, unpopular, and lawless. They must cease their immoral acts, lest they are prepared for consequences. Our people should not have to endure any more suffering.
5. We respectfully call on democratic governments, human rights organisations, press agencies, Vietnamese communities around the world, and especially Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, to speak out against religious oppression and human rights abuses by Vietnam’s Communist government.
The survival of Lien Tri Pagoda is also the survival of religions and the essential affirmation of spiritual values and spiritual strength in Vietnam, decayed everyday by a materialistic, atheist, and totalitarian regime.
Declared in Vietnam, 30th August 2014
By the Interfaith Council of Vietnam:
- Reverend Dinh Huu Thoai (tel: 0935.569.205)
- Reverend Phan Van Loi (tel: 0984.236.371)
- Reverend Le Ngoc Thanh (tel: 0993.598.820)
- Venerable Thich Khong Tanh (tel: 0165.6789.881)
- Venerable Thich Vien Hy (tel: 0937.777.312)
- First Master Hua Phi (tel: 0163.3273.240)
- First Master Nguyen Kim Lan (tel: 0988.971.117
- First Master Nguyen Bach Phung (tel: 0988.477.719)
Hoa Hao Church:
- Mr. Le Quang Liem, Chairman of Hoa Hao (tel: 0199.2432.593)
- Mr. Phan Tan Hoa (tel: 0162.6301.082)
- Mr. Tong Van Chinh (tel: 0163.5745.430)
- Mr. Le Van Soc (tel: 0964.199.039)
- Pastor Nguyen Hoang Hoa (tel: 0121.9460.045)
- Pastor Dinh Uy (tel: 0163.5847.464)
- Pastor Dinh Thanh Truong (tel: 0120.2352.348)
- Pastor Nguyen Manh Hung (tel: 0906.342.908)
- Pastor Le Quang Du (tel: 0121.2002.001)
- Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton (tel: 0162.8387.716)