05/08/2013, 00.00
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Plainclothes officers surround "underground" Buddhist pagoda

Security forces, who prevented monks from leaving the building, raided the site in response to a recent, new form of protest against Chinese "imperialism". Instead of protesting in the streets, demonstrators organise "picnics" in the country's main parks. Protest leaders have been arrested and beaten by police.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Vietnamese security forces and plainclothes police officers surrounded the pagoda of a Buddhist movement not recognised by the government, preventing the monks from leaving the building.

The intervention by the authorities stems from a new form of protest, launched in late April by several activist groups, to avoid police reprisals. Instead of holding demonstrations with slogans and songs demanding "respect for human rights," they organise "picnics" in the main public parks in the country's largest cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (ex Saigon) and Nha Tra.

Still, even such actions promptly attracted the police, who dispersed crowds and arrested organisers. Held in custody, for two days in some cases, some of those arrested were beaten and badly treated.

Over the weekend, at least 50 security officials also blocked the access to the Giac Hoa Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, which belongs to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).

As late as yesterday, the area was under police surveillance. The monastery's head and his deputy, Vens Thich Vien Hy and Thich Vien Dinh, were prevented from leaving the building. No explanation was given for this. The same was true for other monks who were supposed to leave the place to conduct funerals or prayers for the faithful.

According to reports from the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB), police showed no court order authorising the blockade of the pagoda.

Local witnesses said when asked, some officers cited "orders from above" and that "the Chinese were making a fuss."

For IBIB activists, the raid against the Giac Hoa Pagoda is just the latest in a long series of targeted attacks ordered in July by Hanoi against those who support protests against Beijing for its "imperialist" policy in the South China Sea.

Unrecognised by the government, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) was the main Buddhist organisation in south-central Vietnam until 1975, when Hanoi took over direct administration of all its properties and institutions.

In 1981, following its refusal to submit to the Communist Party, the government dissolved the organisation and replaced it with the Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which is effectively controlled by the state. However, UBCV has never recognised the latter's authority and has not stopped its own religious activity.

Starting in the 1990s, many monks were arrested, whilst the 'Supreme Patriarch' Thich Huyen Quang, who died in July 2008, was often threatened for his opposition to the government and spent long periods under house arrest in his pagoda.


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