Banned books and other forms of censorship

On the banning of books, censorship and other freedom of access issues

Friday, February 02, 2007

Vietnam: Send a card to Thich Huyen Quang

Every year, Amnesty International USA holds a holiday card action campaign for various prisoners of conscience around the world. This past December, Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, the Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church Vietnam (UBCV), was one of those highlighted in this campaign. Since the Vietnamese new year, Tet, begins on Feb. 18 this year, I would like to propose this action campaign be extended for him.

The UBCV which Thich Huyen Quang leads has long been known for its independent stance in the face of government repression, both under the former government of the South, the Republic of Vietnam, and under the communist regime of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Along with other leading monks he was harassed and imprisoned under the first RVN president, Ngo Dinh Diem, and during this period they also linked up with overseas pacifist organizations supporting genuine reconciliation in the country. After the war ended in 1975, he and other UBCV leaders continued to speak up for peace and human rights and met harsh reprisals for their protests. In March 1977 Thich Huyen Quang wrote to then Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, detailing various forms of repression against Buddhist pagodas and clergy, and asked for redress.

As a result of this statement and some statements made by other UBCV leaders, Thich Huyen Quang and seven other leading UBCV monks were arrested and imprisoned, from June 1977 until Dec. 1978 (released after international protest). During his incarceration, Ven. Huyen Quang and his colleague Thich Quang Do (UBCV secretary general) were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, who had won the award for their peace work in Northern Ireland. The UBCV was essentially banned in 1981 when the government sponsored the creation of a state Buddhist church, which declared in its founding charter that it was the only legitimate representative of Buddhism within Vietnam and abroad. At this time all Buddhist organizations and churches were ordered to integrate themselves within the state church, but Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do were sent into internal exile after they strongly protested this action.

Over the years, Thich Huyen Quang has continued to speak out boldly and defiantly for human rights and religious freedom, in statements that were smuggled outside of Vietnam and disseminated abroad. The result of his courageous words is that he has spent most of the last 30 years in prison or under house arrest. Yet his suffering has not been in vain: he should be regarded as a pioneer in the struggle against censorship and repression in his country, helping to move Vietnam toward a more open society (a goal still to be realized). I used to edit a newsletter on human rights in Vietnam, and published many translations of his courageous and eloquent statements. See for example his funeral oration for Thich Don Hau; it was with Venerable Don Hau's passing that Thich Huyen Quang formally rose to the position of Supreme Patriarch of the UBCV.

Now age 87, Thich Huyen Quang lives under house arrest at his pagoda in Binh Dinh province of central Vietnam. Cards of support can be sent to him in care of the following pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, and they will be forwarded to him (police surveillance in Binh Dinh is too tight to send to him directly):

Thich Huyen Quang
c/o chua giac Hoa
15/7 no trang Long
Phuong 7, Quan Binh Thanh
Tp Ho chi minh
Vietnam

Cards can say something simple, such as "we are thinking of you," or "we admire your courage and love for your country."

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