01/03/2014, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Hanoi: Buddhist leader detained, placed under house arrest

The authorities detain Le Cong Cau, head of the Buddhist Youth Movement (BYM) of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), which is banned by the government. He was taken into custody at the airport, waiting to board a flight for Saigon. His papers and a computer were also seized. Activists accuse the authorities of gross violations of religious freedom.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Vietnamese authorities detained and placed under house arrest a member of the youth wing of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), after interrogating him for more than 13 hours.

Le Cong Cau, head of the UBCV's Buddhist Youth Movement and an active coordinator of human rights issues in the north central coastal province of Thua Thien-Hue, said he was detained on New Year's Day before he could take a flight to Ho Chi Minh City to meet with UBCV leader and long-time activist Thich Quang Do, who also suffered at the hands of the authorities in the past.

Cau's detention is the latest in a long list of cases of violence and abuse against religious leaders in the Asian country, which have also touched the country's Christian minority whose members have been victims of targeted attacks and smear campaigns by the central government and local officials.

When Vietnamese security officials took into custody Le Cong Cau, they seized his computer as well as documents belonging to the UBCV, which is considered illegal by the Communist regime in Hanoi.

After taking him to a police station, they interrogated him for several hours and then placed him under house arrest on charges of violating "numerous" laws, with about 20 agents deployed outside his home, some in plain clothes.

"They said I was not allowed to leave my house and can't meet anybody," Cau told RFA's Vietnamese Service.

Some of the charges against him are serious such as "anti-government propaganda" and "endangering national unity", and could land him 15 to 20 years in prison.

In reality, he is guilty of entertaining relations with a senior charismatic Buddhist religious leader who heads an organisation deemed unlawful by Hanoi.

Although the UBCV is banned by Communist authorities, the BYM has a semi-official status because of its widespread social, humanitarian, and educational activities, which are tolerated by government.

Since early 2012, the government has indicted at least 65 activists, eventually sentencing them to long prison terms. It also cracked down on bloggers, intellectuals and religious leaders, stopping their peaceful activities.

"Arresting Le Cong Cau for simply attempting to visit to an elderly monk is a serious violation of the right to religious freedom," said Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) President Vo Van Ai.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which is not recognised by the government, was the main Buddhist organisation in southern and central Vietnam until 1975 when the government seized it and took over all its assets.

In 1981, following its refusal to submit to the Communist Party, the government disbanded the Church and replaced it with the Vietnamese Buddhist Church (VBC), which remains under effective state control. However, the UBCV has never recognised the VBC's authority and has never stopped its own religious activity.

Many monks have been arrested since the 1990s. The Church's 'Supreme Patriarch' Thich Huyen Quang, who died in July 2008, often received threats for his opposition to the government and spent long periods under house arrest at his pagoda.

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