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Tuesday, 14 December 1993
Page: 4508

To Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in the Federal Parliament assembled:

  The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that

  (1) One of the most critical issues to the Vietnamese people today is the persecution of their freedom of religion and expression, which has been carried out by the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (GOSRV) since 1945. World media reports have shown consistently that this persecution has increased greatly since 1992, when Buddhists, despite violent repression by the GOSRV's armed forces, started asking for `real' freedom of religion.

  (2) The continuation of the GOSRV's centralised and corrupt structure, as well its failed and disorderly `economic renovation' and its declared loyalty to the atheistic socialism, has seriously degraded the moral, cultural, family, economic and spiritual life of most Vietnamese people.

  (3) The GOSRV's policy of oppressing religions has, since 1945, applied equally to Catholics, Protestants, Caodaists, Hoa Hao Buddhist members and, most seriously, to the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Church (UBCV) which represents the faith and spiritual life of 80% of 72 million Vietnamese.

  (4) As the rightful heir of the 2000-year old Buddhist tradition in Vietnam, the UBCV was formally formed in 1951 by all Buddhist sects, lineages and regional congregations. It is the sole legitimate umbrella Buddhist body in Vietnam despite the GOSRV's unsuccessful attempt, in 1981, to disband and forcibly replace it with the State-run Vietnam Buddhist Church (VBC), and instrument for the GOSRV's propaganda purposes.

  (5) Despite being held under strict house arrest since February 1982 simply because of his opposition to the GOSRV's attempted disbandment to the UBCV and its formation of the State-controlled VBC, the Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, a nominee for 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, has been repeatedly and patiently appealing to leaders of the Communist Party and the GOSRV to ask for:

  a) the urgent restoration and legal recognition of the UBCV's independent status,

  b) the separation of Church and State and the withdrawal of the GOSRV's control over, and politicisation of, the Buddhist church.

  c) the release of all arrested clergy, including the Patriarch, along with thousands of other prisoners of conscience,

  d) the return of, and compensation for, all confiscated and misused Church properties.

  e) open negotiations, free of pre-conditions, between the leaders of the UBCV and the GOSRV to establish mutually agreed solutions to the current conflicts.

  (6) In replying to these reasonable requests, the GOSRV has, in the last few months, ordered stricter surveillance of the Patriarch's place of confinement and placed bans on all of his external communications. Whoever tries to contact, visit, help or offer gifts to him are stopped, threatened, interrogated, bodily searched (and in some cases strip searched), etc. The Patriarch's straightforward appeals have not only been ignored by the Hanoi leaders, but have also been vilified as `anti-state', `reactionary', `creating division amongst Buddhist community', etc. by the GOSRV's mass media and its nation-wide agencies, including its own VBC.

  (7) All of the UBCV's brave clergy and lay members, who openly declare their support for the UBCV's appeals and who have worked sincerely for the reconciliation between the State and the UBCV, also between the VBC and the UBCV, have been inhumanely and violently attacked by the GOSRV. In the last 12 months, hundreds of monks, nuns and lay persons have been arrested and/or tortured, harshly interrogated, searched, investigated and threatened. Amongst them are the Venerables Thich Nhat Lien, Thich Tri Luc and Thich Khong Tanh (Oct—Nov 1992), Thich Thien An (Oct. 1992, tortured to death few days after arrested), Thich Hai Tang, Thich Tri Tuu, Thich Hai Thinh and about 50 lay members (5/6/93), Thich Hanh Duc, 17 other monks and about one hundred of lay followers (9/7/93), etc.

  (8) The GOSRV's violent attack and mass media campaign against Buddhists' appeal for Church independent have caused suffering to many thousands of people, resulting in increased instability for the whole country. Despite the GOSRV's current campaign to illogically calumniate them and to deceive the world, these monks and lay Buddhists are arrested solely because of their aspiration to be involved and support their chosen church, the UBCV.

  (9) To politicise the traditional Buddhist community in Vietnam, the GOSRV has publicly been, and is:

    a) recruiting members for the VBC by forcibly converting the UBCV's moderate clergy to join it, and arresting or exiling other leaders who refuse to do so. (The GOSRV's view of `religious freedom' is not in accord with natural human dignity and heritage, but a rare favour given reluctantly on the terms of the State),

    b) forcing the VBC to include, in its Charter, `Socialism' as its third aim of service—the other two, which originated from UBCV Charter, are People and Buddhism,

    c) creating mutual distrust and conflicts between the lay Buddhist community and their clergy or amongst the clergy themselves by appointing VBC senior leaders to artificial political positions, and by closely controlling and intervening in the limited activities it is permitted to perform training programs such as ordination procedures, seniority promotions, etc.

    d) requiring the VBC to make frequent political statements supporting the GOSRV's inconsistent policies, with the consequence of eroding the VBC's religious identity.

    e) directing the VBC to start a nation-wide campaign to accusing the UBCV of having political ambitions, and forcing it to declare the VBC as the `only legitimate Buddhist authority' and its `everlasting loyalty' to the GOSRV. This is whilst the GOSRV is facing huge pressure and condemnation from the international community about its oppressive attitude to the Buddhists and its systematic violation to all human rights of all non-party-cadre citizens in the country.

  (10) The GOSRV's exclusively economic renovation has not, and can not, lead to democratisation or potentials which will allow long-overdue human rights to its citizens, such as freedom to select their own political aspirations, ways of expressions, religions, education, employment, place of resident, etc. The greater its economic strength, the more determined and confident the GOSRV is in its opposition to such a democratisation process and the worse its treatment of its citizens becomes. This causes ever greater social instability and a sense of total hopelessness for Vietnam's future, and more broadly, prevents the development of stability in the SE Asia region as a whole.

  (11). As its history has proved, if the UBCV is completely free and independent of political intervention, it would be a most beneficial part of, and the best spiritual force to contribute to, a humanitarian and ethically orientated redevelopment process for Vietnam.

Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Senate requests the Australian Government to:

  1. make conditional the release of currently approved financial assistance, and any future aid, to the GOSRV, on its granting of all internationally accepted human and civil rights to its people, without discrimination. This must be demonstrated by the GOSRV through its complete cessation of persecution, in any form, of all religious organisations, particularly the UBCV.

  2. urge the GOSRV to cease all ill-treatment of the UBCV, and to achieve a mutually acceptable resolution, by means of fair negotiation, of all appeals made by the UBCV's Patriarch;

  3. make clear statements requesting the GOSRV:

    (a) not to conduct in any further suppression of those who non-violently demonstrate their beliefs and involvement with their chosen religious organisations;

    (b) immediately release all who are under arrest, with or without trials, because of their religious beliefs, including the Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and other clergy; the GOSRV should also cease their unreasonable political accusations directed towards the UBCV leaders concerning their appeals and commitment to religious freedom and the Church's independent status;

    (c) completely withdraw its politicization of religion obstinate and its gross intervention in the internal affairs of religious bodies such as supporting the VBC whilst inhumanely oppressing the UBCV or by using the official mass media to create staged scenes dishonouring and defaming holders of religious authorities.

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