Hanoi (AsiaNews) – The funeral of Thich Huyen Quang, Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), will take place this week. His Church is banned and government officials have accused it of planning to use the burial ceremony for political advantages
Thich Huyen Quang passed away last Saturday after months of illness; he was 87-year-old, half of which he spent in prison, internal exile or under house arrest. He led the UBCV for 16 years, becoming an outspoken proponent of religious freedom and human rights in Vietnam.
Born in Binh Dinh, southern Vietnam, in 1920, he became a monk at the age of 12. Quickly he got involved in the struggle against French colonial rule. During the Vietnam was he was active in the Buddhist pacifist movement, taking part in various international conferences.
After Vietnam’s unification Thich Huyen Quang was arrested and sentenced several times as the government tried to eliminate religion.
In 1981 the authorities set up a Buddhist Church of Vietnam under the United Front in order to break UBCV resistance.
Together with another hero of religious freedom, Thich Quang Do (now his successor) he was sent into internal exile and placed in isolation. Similarly, on another occasion he was also kept under house arrest at the remote Quang Phuoc Pagoda in Quang Ngai Province.
He was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience in 1990, and declared a ‘Victim of Arbitrary Detention’ by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in Geneva.
Appointed head of the UBCV in 1992 he came under attack from the government. As some secret Communist Party documents reveal, the authorities sought to stop his “evil activities and those of his accomplices,” calling on police and party members “not to spare any efforts in the struggle against Huyen Quang,” nor refrain from “chopping off the arms and legs of the UBCV.”
Monks and the faithful proved unwilling to bend to the party’s will and were arrested by the hundreds. However, the UBCV, which is backed by 80 per cent of Vietnam’s Buddhists, has continued to spread the patriarch’s message and views thanks to its network of solidarity. It has also organised the most important demonstrations in the history of united Vietnam involving tens of thousands of people.
As a result of Thich Huyen Quang’s struggle for the religious freedom and UBCV autonomy, government’s economic wrongdoing have been exposed for creating greater misery among the population.
“Vietnam’s economic development has brought some improvements, but at the same time the level of poverty has risen. Not only is there a gap between rich and poor, but also between rulers and ruled,” he wrote in his message for the Buddha’s birthday, back in May.
“Vietnam’s policies have produced a ‘rich country with a poor population’; the very opposite of the prosperity the government’s slogans claim. [. . .] In terms of human freedoms, we have nothing—all basic rights and liberties are denied. Religious communities cannot act freely, and as a result, social problems are persistent and increasing. It is impossible to bring enlightenment where poverty and lack of freedom prevail.”