Protesters belong to a sect that does not follow the official religious body. An Giang provincial authorities ordered the pagoda’s demolition. An elderly abbot is among those attacked.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Members of an Hoa Hao Buddhist unauthorised sect say they were beaten by plainclothes police yesterday.
The group was on its way to protest against local authorities’ plans to tear down their temple (picture 1), which is located in southern Vietnam’s An Giang province.
Vo Van Thanh Liem, the temple’s 79-year-old abbot, was among the six. He said local officials ordered the destruction of Chợ Mới district’s Quang Minh Tự temple, and its replacement with a new structure.
Speaking to Radio Free Asia, he said that the police guarded the temple’s entrance on 5 and 6 September, refusing to let anyone go in.
“When we got to the Thuan Giang ferry, about 40 to 50 people stopped us,” the abbot explained. They “beat To Van Manh, Le Thanh Thuc, Nguyen Thi My Trieu, and my nephew, Vo Thi Thu Ba”.
“They were about to attack me, so I poured petroleum (sic) on my body and threatened to burn myself,” he said. “I also cut my neck to force them to leave the area.”
The abbot said the ancient temple was renovated about 80 years ago and was still in good use, yet the state-recognised Hoa Hao Buddhist Church wanted to demolish it claiming it needed rebuilding.
The authorities had already tried to knock it down a month ago, but sect leaders managed to prevent them.
In the past, the abbot spent six years in prison and three on probation for demonstrating in favour of religious freedom in Vietnam.
In An Giang Province, Hoa Hao Buddhists refuse to obey the Hoa Hao Church Committee. Across the country, the sect has about two million followers, but the authorities have imposed strict controls on it as it does to dissident groups that do not follow the official one.
Human rights groups note that the authorities in An Giang tend to persecute followers of non-approved groups, preventing the public reading of their founder’s writings and discouraging members from visiting pagodas.
Communist authorities are wary of organised religions. Last year they approved a law requiring the various religious groups to register. Religious activity requires state permission and all religious activities must be reported.