04/21/2004, 00.00
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Government persecution of Mennonites and Buddhists

Ho Chi Min City (AsiaNews/EDA) – Vietnamese government hostility toward any and all religious activities continues to abound across the country.  

On Easter day police intervened in various towns to prevent Mennonite community worship services from taking place. Meanwhile it was just reported that at the end of March a meeting between a U.S. delegation and Buddhist monk (a major exponent of the Unified Buddhist Church) was also stopped by police

Catechist Truong Tri Hien was arrested In Thanh Phu (Vinh Cuu District) during a police intervention against the Mennonite community (unauthorized like that of Vietnam's evangelical Protestants). The catechist has not been heard of since he was taken in by police while leading worship for some 80 faithful. The police surrounded the area of worship in order not to let any faithful inside.

There has been no news of the pastor of the Kontum community, who was also stopped and arrested during an Easter service.  

Similar incidents occurred in the province of Kien Giang, where it is feared Pastor Huynh, who heads the community, has been threatened with arrest and punishment.

In Saigon police intervened at the home of Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, a well known dissident. Police went to search his home where 20 or "Montagnard" had been gathering. Montagnards had already suffered a series of oppression. The pastor, however, was able to prevent police for entering his home for fear of the worshippers being arrested. He managed to give them their names only, without indicating where they lived.   

A "road accident", however, occurred in Hué, preventing the meeting of the American delegation of representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and General Consulate in Ho-Chi Minh City as well as the Venerable Thich Thien Hanh, who's been under house arrest at a Bao Loc pagoda since October 2003.  

March 29 was the day police units and government party members surrounded and closed off entry to his pagoda. When two other pagodas were blocked off, a fake car accident stalled American delegation's vehicle in local traffic. Upon hearing police say they could not guarantee their safety, the U.S. delegation headed back in the direction from which they had come.

On April 7 U.S. Embassy spokesman, Tom Carmichael, confirmed what had happened saying that "the members of our Embassy and Consulate didn't have the chance to meet with representatives of certain religious groups. Apparently it was as result of some police action."   

Since the 1990s The Venerable Thich Thien Hanh has led vigorous campaign to win the Unified Buddhist Church's independence from the State. The Unified Buddhist Church is a separate branch of Buddhism. He has been blocked in his pagoda since he was named secretary general of the Institute for the Clergy (one of the two managing organizations of his Church) and after receiving an undocumented verbal order form police. This occurred despite a letter of protest he wrote to the country's authorities.   
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