Vietnamese Buddhists seek asylum in France
Followers of radical leader Thich Nhat Hanh claim they are not safe in Vietnam after standoff with authorities turns violent
Hundreds of Vietnamese followers of a radical Buddhist leader have called on the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to grant them temporary asylum, a week after they were attacked by vigilantes allegedly hired by the Vietnamese authorities.
Representatives of the followers yesterday urged Sarkozy to grant them asylum "until it is safe for them to return to Vietnam to practise their faith, together".
About 380 young monks and nuns were forced to flee Bat Nha monastery in central Lam Dong province at the end of September after the authorities reacted angrily to a call by their exiled spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, to end religious intolerance and disband the country's notorious A41 religious police.
Supporters say that several monks were beaten and four were sexually assaulted, while two others were held under house arrest without charge.
The year long standoff between the Buddhists and the Vietnamese authorities took another violent turn last week when the government sealed off a temple where 200 followers had been taking refuge.
A 100-strong armed mob, allegedly directed by undercover police and communist party officials, assaulted the occupants and attempted to clear them from Phuoc Hue pagoda in Lam Dong province.
The attack forced an EU delegation to abandon a fact-finding mission to the temple, and the abbot, Thich Thai Thuan, was forced to write a note urging the followers to leave the temple by the end of the year.
"They pressured me to sign the paper to evict the monastic," he told Radio France. "They forced me, so I had to sign."
Campaigners said the attacks were proof of Vietnam's contempt for human rights and called on the international community to take action.
"Vietnam's international donors should insist that the government halt the attacks on the monks and nuns in Lam Dong, allow them to practise their religion, and prevent any further violent expulsions," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
"And they should make clear they will keep close tabs on the situation."
The EU, one of Vietnam's biggest donors, pledged $1bn in aid earlier this month, but pressed the government to lift its restrictions on the media and permit religious freedoms and political dissent.
"The vigilante action to prevent diplomats from meeting with the monks and nuns is a real slap in the face to the EU," Pearson said. "The EU needs to make clear that it has leverage and will use it."
The EU delegation was sent after the European parliament passed a resolution last month condemning the Buddhists' violent expulsion.
Nhat Hanh helped popularise Buddhism in the west and was nominated for the Nobel peace prize by Martin Luther King.
His followers, who describe themselves as the "most radical and fastest growing" in Vietnam, say the government regards their leader as a threat to its authority.
He was forced to leave the former South Vietnam in 1965 because of his opposition to the Vietnam war.
During his exile in France he sold millions of books and brought Buddhist thought to a new audience in the west through his Zen teachings and peace activism.
His return to Vietnam in 2005 – with the government's blessing – after 39 years in exile raised hopes for a new era of religious freedom in the country.
All religious activity remains under state control, but the government insists it respects the freedom to worship and described the recent attacks as a dispute between rival Buddhist groups.
By Justin McCurry - The Guardian - december 17, 2009
Vietnamese followers of famed Zen master seek asylum in France after pressure from officials
HANOI — Followers of a famous Buddhist teacher plan to seek temporary asylum in France after months of pressure from Vietnam's communist authorities to leave pagodas in the country's south.
Some 400 disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh, who has popularized Buddhism in the West and sold millions of books worldwide, were forcibly evicted from the Bat Nha monastery in Lam Dong province in late September. Since then, nearly 200 have taken refuge at the nearby Phuoc Hue pagoda, but they have been ordered to leave by Dec. 31.
The standoff came to a head last week when a crowd of about 100 people, including undercover police, invaded Phuoc Hue and demanded that the abbot kick the disciples out. The angry crowd stopped a meeting under way between Nhat Hanh's followers and a European Union human rights delegation.
"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 on a Web site operated by followers of Thich Nhat Hanh on Thursday. "We must turn to you to ask for temporary asylum in France so that we can remain together."
Vietnamese authorities could not be reached for comment Thursday.
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.
Leaked official documents strongly suggest that the government, angry at Nhat Hanh for making political comments, deliberately sowed discord at their monastery, blamed it on Nhat Hanh's followers and has been using it as a pretext to break them apart.
Vietnam-born Nhat Hanh lives at the Plum Village monastery in southern France, where thousands of people from around the world visit each year to practice his progressive brand of "engaged Buddhism," which stresses nonviolence and good works.
Nhat Hanh has lived in exile since being forced out of the former South Vietnam in the 1960s because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.
He was warmly welcomed by authorities during a homecoming visit four years ago, and a member of Vietnam's official Buddhist Church invited his followers to settle at Bat Nha.
But relations with the government began to deteriorate after a 2007 visit during which Nhat Hanh suggested to President Nguyen Minh Triet that Vietnam give up control of religion and consider dropping the word "socialist" from Vietnam's formal name.
On Wednesday, about 20 senior Plum Village monks and nuns met with Heidi Hautula, who chairs the human rights subcommittee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. She issued a statement saying she was "deeply concerned" about the treatment of Nhat Hanh's followers.
New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement Wednesday accusing the Vietnamese government of creating "orchestrated mobs" to break up Nhat Hanh's followers.
Thich Thai Thuan, the abbot at Phuoc Hue and member of Vietnam's official Buddhist church, said he signed the letter setting the Dec. 31 deadline under pressure from a mob including undercover police.
"I wanted to protect the Plum Village people," Thai Thuan said. "Where can they go if they are evicted ?"
By Ben Stocking - The Canadian Press - December 17, 200
'Illegal' Buddhists seek asylum
HANOI - Followers of an 'illegal' Buddhist group in Vietnam want temporary asylum in France where their influential head is based, a nun said on Friday.
'We have a representative who went to France and asked for us to stay there,' the nun, asking not to be identified, told AFP. She said the group no longer felt safe in their home country.
Mob pressure last week forced the head of Phuoc Hue pagoda in central Vietnam to sign a document promising that the devotees of French-based Thich Nhat Hanh would leave by December 31, the abbot said. Mr Nhat Hanh is a Zen monk and was a confidant of slain US civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
Almost 200 of the monk's followers have been staying at Phuoc Hue since September when they fled their monastery at Bat Nha. Both temples are in Lam Dong province in Vietnam's Central Highlands. Followers said they left Bat Nha after threats from people armed with hammers and batons.
'For the authorities, we are illegal,' Trung Hai, a monk representing the group, said last month in Geneva. The unidentified nun told AFP that although other pagodas in Vietnam would like to help, 'they don't dare support us'. Nhat Hanh's followers are afraid that, even if they move to another pagoda, what happened at Phuoc Hue would recur.
Last week, crowds of about 100 people noisily descended upon the pagoda for three days demanding the departure of the devotees until finally, the abbot said, he had no choice but to agree and promised they would leave. She said police were among the crowds, whose members told her they had been paid to intimidate the Buddhists. All religious activity remains under state control in Vietnam but the government says it always respects the freedom of belief and religion.
Agence France Presse - December 18, 2009