The Global Digest



Religious

Plight of Christians in Pakistan and Senseless Civilized World

Special Contribution
By Rahat John Austin

Christians in Pakistan

In the recent year tens of thousands Christian have fled Pakistan. The Christian population at the time of partition in 1947 was 26% now declined only to 3-4%. The reasons are quite obvious, they can either escape or submit to the Islamic believes. There are only two categories of Christians that are still managing to live peaceful lives in Pakistan. first once who have mixed their believes with Islamic ones stating diplomatically that both faiths are more or less the same and the second one those who have accepted discrimination, lack of religious freedom and physical and psychological torture as part of their daily lives. But those Christians who raised their voices for justice and fight for the rights or want to worship without any fear or restriction eventually forced to flee the country or are ready to die.

Its routine to listen that some Christian girl is raped and killed or forcefully converted, some person is killed by mob alleged blasphemy, some man or woman is sentenced to death because of blasphemy which they never committed. But on other hand muslim burn their houses, burn their churches, burn their bibles, burn their cross , burn their women and children alive and there is no any law or punishment to prevent for them or make non-muslims safe, Why? In 71 years history of Pakistan there is no any even single example or evidence that some muslim is punished for killing or burning or raping some Christian man, woman or child or their church or bible. Why?

People say that pakistan is safe country for non-muslims. What is the safety? Even Christians can not drink a glass of water from the public place or cannot even eat from a restaurant if they know you are a non muslim because they think non-muslim are un clean and untouchables. Non-Muslim especially christians are going through a unbearable insult and pain. This is shameful that non muslim women and minor girls are raped as a religious obligation to get the will of “Allah” the god of islam. The situation of minorities in Pakistan is getting worse and worse they are indicators showing that Pakistan is a suffering from religious extremism more severely than the any other country in the world. This is proved by recent report of Global Research Center on Restriction on Religion and Open Doors USA. Which say Pakistan is the 4th most dangerous country for Christians after North Korea, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Christians in Pakistan

The problem is the international community seems to ignore that fact that non-muslim are suffering severely in Pakistan under the heavy pressure of society and the government and blasphemy laws which is very unfair. Where non-muslims can go? Where to run away? Where to take protection? Who say that this country is for all, all have equal rights? The Muslim hard line clerics, politicians and even the judges of supreme court of Pakistan, many times publically say even on national television that Pakistan was made “by muslims for muslims” and there is no any place for non-believers.

Recently on 8th August 2017 in an address the chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar said publically on television that he don’t want to even take name the non-muslims on his tongue. This speech was broadcast live almost all the television channels and not even a single channel has condemned his words. Only few posts on face book shows that these words are inappropriate for the person holding highest power and office in the country. Blasphemy laws are the one of the major problem for the Christians of Pakistan they are misused to settle issues, personal grudges, on very minor things like money or piece of land or quarrel of the children even. They misuse and they don’t only misuse but they don’t wait for the process of law, they kill people at the spot, they burn them alive , they destroy their houses and churches not only the accused person but other Christians living in that town or city.

The constitution of Islamic republic of Pakistan and other laws clearly state that leading all administrative job positions are for mulims. This is compulsory for every officer have to take oath before appointment that he is muslim. Only mean and low level jobs like cleaning the sewerage and filth are reserved for Non-Muslim and they print in news papers and other media that these are reserved only for non mulism. A non-muslim man cannot married with a muslim woman. A non muslim even cannot appear in the court as a witness against a muslim because his testimony or claim is considered unreliable. A muslim cannot take case in Fedrel Shariat Court against a muslim and a non-muslim Lawyer cannot appear in that court as a council no matter the case is against a non-muslim.

When these majority muslim courtiers muslims go to other countries with Christian majority or civilized countries they demand equal rights. They get married with their women for visa and divorce them after getting nationality, transfer all foreign exchange and money to their country, misuse and abuse their values and system and still they are not happy and demand their conversion and imposition of Sharia law otherwise stab them and kill them with bombs. It is urgent need to wake up the western countries, wake up! Please look at us what have done with us. Christians in these countries are made so weak to stand through a well planed procedure. They have to go through a hell every day. How can they even think about blasphemy? Even a single case is not proven of blasphemy against Christians but still they are killed by the mad mob or police or sentenced to death by court because a muslim’s evidence against a non muslim is enough to prove him guilty.

Pakistani authorities failed to provide security and safety to the religious minorities in Pakistan. This is the one of the resound why religious minorities especially Christians and Hindus are fleeing from Pakistan. These authorities suppose to support and help these persecuted people whoever they completely supporting and funding behind the curtain these radical extremists because they think they are soldiers of “Allah” the Islamic God. Pakistani Christian started fleeing pakistan because of their insecurity of their lives and lives of their children. Non-Muslims have given sacrifices for this country and this is in return that they are killed in the day light in the public and there is no one to hear them instead the murderer are considered and praised as heroes not only by the public but politicians and judges in the court kiss them and salute them with honor.

Its been and observe that Christian organizations and specially Vatican and the Pope, they have failed to give any hope to persecuted Christians. Giving a press release or sending a note is not a solution, whereas pope should come to help his flock and make certain policies to safeguard these persecuted people from the Islamic world. We have observed that the pope making and pleasing the muslim radicals by inviting their people and requesting the Europe to open the doors for their muslim brothers. What is happening in middle east and Pakistan and rest of the muslim world and African region is absolutely different.

These muslims are persecuting christians in their countries because of their faith. And we are inviting them to come to Europe and invade us, chop us and kill us. Is this what the Vatican and other world is thinking of it. We are really disturbed and very upset with the decisions of the Vatican. Before partitions in 1947, Christians were educated people having good financial condition. After partition their properties were taken in the name of welfare of muslim refugees coming from india and now if someone try to make its future with hard work, putting and serving all his life, only one accusation can deprive him of everything and make him run away from the country or to die a horrible death. There are thousands are in the death row and it is going day by day worse because government is helpless and a toy in the hands of extremists. Choosing to speak for your own or someone others rights is very risky act in Pakistan, have to face dire consequences. They not only face charges of blasphemy but murdered in cold blood.

So we have a question where to go? Persecuted Christians have no country, no respect no recognition anywhere. Countries feel hesitation to accept them as refugees and their life in Pakistan is more worse than a street dog. I think these days Europe and civilized world forget that; “Ignoring the Christians in suffering actually is the ignoring the suffering body of Christ”
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Crackdown on Buddhist Youth Movement’s Summer Camp in Huế



Entrance to the Buddhist Youth Movement’s summer camp

PARIS, 21st July 2017 (VCHR - IBIB) – Police and local authorities in Huế harassed, intimidated and intercepted members of the Buddhist Youth Movement (BYM - Gia Đình Phật tử Việt Nam) as they organized the movement’s annual Summer Camp in Huế. This incident takes place as Vietnam prepares to enact its very first Law on Belief and Religion which will effectively outlaw religious activities conducted by non-registered groups such as the BYM, an affiliate of the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).

Under the new law, the definition of a religious organization is “a grouping of believers, dignitaries, auxiliaries and clergy of a religion, which is organized according to a given structure recognized by the State” (our emphasis) (Article 2.12). Once the law comes into force on 1st January 2018, religious organizations which cannot or choose not to register with the state will have no legal safeguards for conducting religious activities.

Over the past months, the government has been racing to prepare for the law’s enforcement. On 8th March 2017, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc issued Decision 306/QĐ-TTg with a “Plan to Implement the Law on Belief and Religion” calling on government agencies at all levels to “establish a roadmap to guarantee that the Law will be implemented in a uniform, complete and synchronized manner on a nationwide scale by 1st January 2018”.

A follow-up plan was issued by the Ministry of the Interior on 29th March. The plans will be overseen by the Ministry of the Interior in collaboration with the Government Board of Religious Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Communist Party’s Central Mobilization Department, the Vietnam Fatherland Front and the Ministries of Finance, Justice and Public Security. Alongside training and deployment of religious cadres, the Plans call for increased vigilance and sanctions against those who “violate regulations on religion or belief”.

“The recent crackdown on the BYM’s Summer Camp is a typical example of Vietnam’s two-faced religious policies”, said Võ Văn Ái, VCHR President and international spokesman of the UBCV. “Whilst the state claims to protect freedom of religion or belief, it clamps down on the activities of a Buddhist educational movement which seeks simply to impart the values of tolerance, compassion and understanding to the younger generation”. Mr. Ái added that the BYM’s guiding principles are enshrined in its motto “Bi – Trí – Dũng” – compassion, wisdom and courage.

On 12th July 2017, the BYM prepared to hold the “Hiếu - Hạnh” camp at the Long Quang Pagoda in Huế for members from 8-16 years old. The camps are held each year on the festival of the Bodhisattva of Compassion (Quán Thế Âm), whilst monks and nuns are engaged in their summer retreat. They are a favourite meeting place for young UBCV Buddhists who come from all over the province and work hard to prepare the camp’s activities and cultural events. Because of its affiliation with the UBCV, the BYM’s camps are frequently disturbed by the Police, but harassments this year were particularly harsh.

On 10th July 2017, BYM leaders Lê Văn Khá and Lê Văn Thọ of the BYM section in Hòa Đa Tây were summoned for “working sessions” (interrogations) by the local authorities and pressured not to allow their members to attend the camp. The following day, almost all BYM leaders in the province had received similar convocations from the Police and local authorities (see above the summons issued to a BYM leader by the local People’s Committee for (sic) “working sessions on the organization of festivities concerning the Bodhisattva of Compassion Quán Thế Âm”.

During the night of 11th July, Police surrounded the homes of Văn Đình Tất, BYM leader of Quảng Điền district and Trương Phiên, leader of the Hiếu Hạnh camp and prohibited them from leaving their homes. In many localities, Police visited the homes of BYM members and threatened parents not to let their children attend the camp. On the morning of 12th July, BYM leaders Ngô Đức Tiến, Nguyễn Văn Đê (from Phú Vang district), Hoàng Tánh, Văn Đình Tất (Quảng Điền district), Lê Thị Kim Thông (Phong Điền district), Nguyễn Văn Lành and Tôn Thất Kỳ Nam (Phú Lộc district) were all intercepted by Police and forbidden to attend the event.

In Nước Ngọt and Hải Nhuận districts, as children were about to board buses taking them to Huế, Police intercepted the buses, prevented the children from boarding and forced the drivers to turn back. In face of these arbitrary harassments by the local authorities, during the early hours of 12th July, parents, friends and BYM members organized an impromptu transport network, using bicycles, motorcycles and private cars to bring their children to the camp. By 8.30am on 12th July when the Camp was declared open, 435 young members of the Buddhist Youth Movement were present to take part in the event.

The Buddhist Youth Movement (Gia Đình Phật tử Việt Nam), is an unofficial educational organization based on the Scouts movement. Founded in 1943 and affiliated to the UBCV, it has a membership of 300,000 members nationwide in Vietnam.
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At the UN, Vietnam Committee on Human Rights denounces persecution of UBCV Buddhists and calls on UN Experts to visit Vietnam



Võ Văn Ái speaking at the Human Rights Council in Genva (16.6.2017)

GENEVA, 16 June 2017 (VCHR) – Speaking on behalf of Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today, Mr. Võ Văn Ái, President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) denounced grave and consistent persecution of “non-recognised religions” in Vietnam, citing one of the most salient examples, the case of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).

In his statement to the 35th session of the Human rights Council, which is meeting from 6-23 June in Geneva, Mr. Võ Văn Ái expressed deep concern about the situation of UBCV Patriarch Thích Quảng Độ, 89, who has been detained almost without interruption in prison, internal exile or house arrest since 1982. He also denounced continuous harassments against Lê Công Cầu, UBCV Secretary-general and leader of the Buddhist Youth Movement, who staged a one-week hunger strike in May 2017 to protest Police bans on his right to travel.

On 14 May 2017, on hearing that the UBCV Patriarch was in very bad health, Lê Công Cầu bought a plane ticket from Hue to Ho Chi Minh City, where Thích Quảng Độ is under house arrest. The next day, as he was about to leave his home, Security Police intercepted him and strictly prohibited him from leaving his home, even to buy food. Before the UN Human Rights Council, Mr. Ai called for Thích Quảng Đô’s immediate release, an end to persecution against the UBCV and the lifting of all travel bans on Lê Công Cầu. “The plight of Thích Quảng Độ and Lê Công Cầu gives a snap-shot view of the routine challenges that confront all UBCV followers ; isolation, surveillance, prevented from visiting their families and friends, denied the right to comfort and care, harassed and intimidated”, said Mr. Ai in the margins of the Human Rights Council. “Why does Vietnam unabatedly repress the UBCV ? Because the Communist Party tolerates no opposition. A structured, popular movement such as the UBCV, with its steadfast commitment to human rights, democracy and social justice, is inevitably perceived as a threat”.

Thích Quảng Độ was one of the first to speak out for religious freedom, human rights and democracy in Vietnam. The Norwegian Rafto Foundation, who awarded him their 2006 Prize for Human Rights Defenders, described him as a “unifying force” and a “symbol of the growing democracy movement in Vietnam”. He is one of the rare figures to propose a global, democratic and humanist alternative to the one-Party state imposed by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). This is why the VCP has arbitrarily held him under detention for the past three decades. Not only is Thích Quảng Độ deprived of his freedom without any justification or charge, but his living conditions at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) are no different from those of a prisoner. A locked, iron gate blocks the entrance to his upper-floor room. His visitors and communications are monitored and he is denied freedom of movement. After so many years of isolation and lack of adequate medical care, Thích Quảng Độ’s health has deteriorated recently. In mid-May, he fell ill and needed urgent care and medical treatment.

The authorities deliberately banned Lê Công Cầu from traveling in order to prevent him assisting Thích Quảng Độ. Exasperated by the continuous harassments, Police interrogations and travel bans over several years, Lê Công Cầu staged a hunger strike from 15 – 22 May in protest and was hospitalized as a result. “Vietnam is cynically playing for time. They isolate UBCV leaders so that they will gradually pass away, in silence and unknown to the general public. We cannot let this happen to Thích Quảng Độ” said Võ Văn Ái. “At the same time, they seek to cut off all contacts between UBCV leaders and the population, who strongly follow the UBCV. This is why, year after year, the authorities crack-down on UBCV celebrations of important Buddhist festivals such as the Vesak (Birth of Buddha)”.

Indeed, during the Vesak celebrations in April-May 2017, security police systematically visited the homes of UBCV followers, threatening them with reprisals if they attended UBCV Vesak celebrations. They also summoned key members of the UBCV and the Buddhist Youth movement for interrogations, coercing them to renounce the UBCV and cease participation in Vesak preparations, e.g. youth leaders Ngô Đức Tiến and Nguyễn Văn Đê in Huế, and Lê Văn Thạnh and Nguyễn Anh Tuấn in Nha Trang. In face of these grave and consistent human rights abuses, Mr. Võ Văn Ái called on the UN Human Rights Council to urge Vietnam to extend a standing invitation to the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, Freeedom of Opinion and Expression and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association to visit Vietnam.
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U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommends designating Vietnam as “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom violations



USCIRF Annual Report 2017 (Vietnam Chapter)

PARIS, 27 April 2017 (VCHR) –The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) welcomes the 2017 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom issued on Wednesday by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and its recommendation that Vietnam be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) by the US administration. Under the 1998 US International Religious Freedom Act, CPC designation applies to “any country whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious”. USCIRF has consistently recommended Vietnam for CPC designation every year since 2002.

The USCRIF report recommends 16 countries for CPC designation in 2017 including Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (already on the CPC list), Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Vietnam. This is the first time Russia has been placed on the USCIRF list. The US State Department designated Vietnam as a CPC in 2004 and 2004, but removed it in 2006. In a 2016 report marking the 10-year anniversary of Vietnam’s removal from the CPC list, USCIRF regretted that the US had lifted the designation too soon, resulting in backsliding and continuing abuses of freedom of religion or belief by the Vietnamese authorities.

“USCIRF’s report reveals the gulf between rhetoric and reality concerning religious freedom in Vietnam” said Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR). “Discrimination between state-sponsored and independent religious groups, harassments, intimidation and beatings, as well as state confiscation of religous property are the daily lot of many religious communities, in stark contrast to the government’s discourse. CPC designation is critical to maintain international focus on these ongoing abuses”.

According to USCIRF’s findings, there is a “disconnect” between the Vietnamese government’s “ouvertures to improve religious freedom conditions” and “ongoing actions taken by local officials, public security, and organized thugs to threaten and physically harm religious followers and their houses of worship or other religious property”. Whilst the report noted improvements in certain areas, it stressed that “the Vietnamese government either directs or allows harassment and discrimination against unregistered, independent religious organizations, particularly those that also advocate for human rights and/or religious freedom”.

Many individuals and groups are targeted by the Vietnamese government because of their faith, ethnicity, advocacy for democracy, human rights or religious freedom, or desire to main independent of Communist government control, reports USCIRF, citing the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), independent Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and Khmer-Krom Buddhists, Montagnards, Hmong, Falun Gong practitioners and followers of the Duong Van Minh sect. USCIRF expressed concern for the plight of several detained religious figures, including UBCV Patriarch Thích Quảng Độ, Christian human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài, Khmer Krom Buddhist Venerable Thach Thuol and Lutheran Pastor Nguyễn Công Chính.

Not only religious organizations but also lawyers, bloggers, activists and civil society are the target of repression, said the report. USCIRF observed that “in general, the Vietnamese government continues to crack down on anyone challenging its authority”. Whilst acknowledging positive new language in Vietnam’s new Law on Belief and Religion, USCIRF cited serious concerns raised by critics of the law. Indeed, since the very first drafts of the law became public, VCHR has stated repeatedly that the text would legalize excessive government control over religious activities and force religious groups which cannot, or choose not to register with the state, into virtual illegality. In 2016, along with 53 prominent religious and civil society organizations inside and outside Vietnam, VCHR sent an Open Letter to the Vietnamese National Assembly Chair Nguyện Thị Kim Ngân proposing amendments to bring the law into line with international human rights standards.

In its report, USCIRF suggested it could consider moving Vietnam to its Tier 2 list (an improvement on CPC designation) if the government implements the new law “in a manner that ensures the rights of religious organizations and religious believers”. VCHR fears that this is unlikely to happen soon, not only because the Law on Belief and Religious is a seriously flawed text, but also because, although it was adopted by the National Assembly in November 2016, it will not come into force until January 2018.---

Created under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan government advisory body that monitors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the US President, Secretary of State, and Congress. Under the International Religious Freedom Act, the U.S. may impose a series of measures, ranging from travel restrictions to economic sanctions, on countries designated as CPCs.
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Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn kidnapped and beaten in Vietnam



Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn after his attack (Photo Brotherhood for Democracy)

PARIS, 2 March 2017 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) is deeply concerned by the increasing use of physical violence perpetrated by police in plain clothes or gangs of thugs hired by the authorities to repress dissidents, human rights defenders and civil society activists in Vietnam. The recent kidnapping and beating of protestant pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn and his colleague Nguyễn Viết Tứ is the latest example of this disturbing trend.

“Vietnam ratified the UN Convention against Torture with great fanfare in 2015, but the base acts entrusted to police officers or hired thugs are blatantly acts of torture” said VCHR President Võ Văn Ái. “Vietnam must put an end to such practices and bring those responsible to justice”.



On 27 February 2017, Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn, who is also president of the Brotherhood for Democracy (Hội Anh Em Dân Chủ) and Nguyễn Viết Tứ travelled to Ba Đồn (Quảng Bình province) to meet other activists who had recently suffered police violence. When they arrived there at 9.30 pm, they were intercepted by a group of men who punched them in the face and forced them into a van.

In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Pastor Tôn said the men were security police in plain clothes. They covered the two activists’ heads and drove them to a remote forest area on Hương Khê mountain in the neighbouring province of Hà Tĩnh. They punched Pastor Tôn and Tứ and beat them with an iron bar until 1.00 am, then robbed them of their clothes and possessions, tied them up and left them, injured and naked, on the mountain road. It was only thanks to the help of local residents, who found them around 2.00 am, that they were able to travel back to Pastor Tôn’s home in Thanh Hóa. He was seriously injured, and could not move one of his legs.

Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn is a pro-democracy activist, defender of religious freedom and human rights and former political prisoner. In 2011, he was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison and two years’ house arrest on charges of “activities undermining the State” and “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (Article 88 of the Criminal Code). For the past few weeks, he has been subjected to repeated harassments and intimidation by Security Police, including death threats against him and his family.

This incident is indicative of an increasing climate of repressive violence against all forms of free expression in Vietnam. In 2015, hired thugs were massively used by Police to suppress nationwide demonstrations denouncing the ecological catastrophe caused by the Taiwanese company Formosa. Similarly, police in plain clothes and thugs conduct daily harassments and attacks against dissidents and members of non-recognized religious groups such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).

On 14 February 2017, a procession of hundreds of Catholics from Nghệ An were brutally attacked by Police as they went to Hà Tĩnh courthouse to file complaints and demand compensation for their losses in the Formosa disaster. On 17 February 2017, demonstrations held in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to commemorate the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War were also violently repressed, and at least ten people detained. Just recently, civil society activists and human rights defenders were harassed and intimidated to prevent them meeting with a delegation from the European Parliament visiting Vietnam from 20 - 24 February 2017 to assess the situation of human rights in the country.
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FREE Mobile APP on 155 Muslim Freedom Fighters with stories and rarest pictures.




In a typical attempt to educate people about contribution and role of Muslims in India’s Independence movements, Syed Khalid Saifullah, a software engineer has developed a Mobile App named ‘Muslim Freedom Fighters’ that can be downloaded for from google play store or by opening on link - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.raylabs.muslimfreedomfighters

‘Muslim Freedom Fighters’ app has stories, pictures and quiz on 155 Muslim freedom fighters. It is designed like a game to make learning a fun. The app has 155 levels, one level for each freedom fighter.

App is based on the book "The Immortals' penned by Syed Naseer Ahamed. Author did extensive research for 20 years on the role of Muslim Freedom Fighters in India's freedom struggle, traveled to far off places in the country, met the families of freedom fighters and collected their rare photographs and profiles. In app freedom fighters have been classified into various categories like Women, Rulers, Martyrs, Moulvis, Advocates, Journalists, Businessmen, Azad Hind Fouj, Doctors, Educationists, Poets, Bureaucrats, Judges and other professions.

When one category is clicked, names of freedom fighters are displayed and when any name there is clicked then picture of selected freedom fighter and one page information of him/her is displayed. A user can take a test after reading the profile of each freedom fighter. After answering three out of five questions correctly in one level, the user can advance to the next level. However, the users can read all the profiles of freedom fighters without taking the test.

Once a user passes all the levels, a certificate of appreciation ‘A tribute to Muslim freedom fighters’ will be sent to the user. App was launched on Independence day of 2016 got a huge response and has more than 5000 downloads. For more details of app people can call @ 91 8712900055 or email @ khalidness@gmail.com Thanks, Syed Khalid Saifullah
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54 Religious organisations and CSOs call on Vietnam National Assembly to revise Draft Law on Religion and Belief



President of Vietnam’s National Assembly, Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan

PARIS 6 October 2016 (VCHR) – 54 prominent religious and civil society organisations in Vietnam, the USA, Europe and Asia have sent an Open Letter to the President of Vietnam’s National Assembly, Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, calling for the revision of the Draft Law on Belief and Religion which should be voted by the National Assembly at their upcoming session (20 October - 18 November 2016). The signatories say the law is seriously flawed, and call for a revised text to be drafted in consultation with religious organisations and international legal experts “to ensure that the law protects the right to freedom of religion or belief in line with article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)”.

“This law, if adopted in its current form, will put a straight-jacket on religions” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai, one of the letters’ co-sponsors. “It legalises government interference into all aspects of religious life, and rejects the very existence of organisations which cannot, or do not want to register with the State. This is against the very principle of freedom of religion or belief enshrined in the ICCPR, to which Vietnam is a state party”.

According to the signatories, the draft law places “unacceptable restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief and other human rights”, and “inherit[s] from previous rules and regulations this emphasis on government control and management of religious life which is contrary to the spirit and principle of the right to freedom of religion and belief”.

This is the first time Vietnam will adopt a law on religion and belief. Until now, religions have been regulated by a series of ordinances and decrees. Previous versions of the draft, which were circulated to religious communities for comment by the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, sparked off strongly critical reactions. However, the current text has taken no account of the religious communities’ concerns. Moreover, apart from the Catholic Church, which has a special status in Vietnam, only State-recognised or State-sponsored religious bodies were consulted, not independent organisations such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and non-recognised Christian, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and Khmer Krom Buddhist communities.

Open Letter to the President of the Vietnam National Assembly on Vietnam’s draft Law on Belief and Religion

The Hon. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan President, National Assembly of Vietnam Doc Lap Street, Quan Thanh Ba Dinh, Hanoi

Dear National Assembly President Nguyen Kim Ngân,

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are writing to express our concerns about the proposed Law on Belief and Religion in Vietnam. The draft law, which has been revised several times and drawn strong criticism from many religious communities, is expected to be voted into law by the National Assembly at its session in October-November 2016.

The most recent draft was discussed at a high-level meeting of the Communist Party’s Fatherland Front on 17 August, and circulated to certain religious communities for comment. An examination of the draft law that was published on the National Assembly website shows that the 9-chapter draft law contains some improvements, but also continues to place unacceptable restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief and other human rights. Specifically, basic guarantees of the right to freedom of religion or belief continue to be undermined by onerous registration requirements and excessive state interference in religious organizations’ internal affairs. Indeed, this and the previous versions of the law inherit from previous rules and regulations this emphasis on government control and management of religious life which is contrary to the spirit and principle of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

As mentioned above, the draft was circulated to certain religious communities for comment. However, one Catholic body also objected to the short time, from 18 to 30 August, given for preparing their response to the draft law (1). Furthermore, independent religious groups not registered with the government, such as the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, were not consulted.

There have been some welcome improvements made in the draft law, including provisions for the right to change one’s religion, as well as to follow or not follow a religion, the right of some detainees "to use religious books and manifest their belief or religion”, and the right of religious organizations to participate in activities such as education, vocational training, medical care and social and humanitarian assistance. Nevertheless, the recommendations below have emerged from some of the particular concerns expressed by religious communities in Vietnam, which are shared by the undersigned organisations.

1. The definition of a religion should be made consistent with Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In the current draft, a religious organization has been defined as “a group of people … which is recognized by the government” (our emphasis) (Article 2.13). This leaves members of religious organizations who cannot or choose not to register with the authorities in a legal limbo, with no legal safeguards for conducting religious activities.

2. Registration with the government should not be made a pre-requisite for the exercise of freedom of religion or belief. The onerous and complex registration process requires approval from the authorities for religious activities, operations and status as an organization. The guarantees outlined in Article 18 of the ICCPR are independent of and cannot be conditioned on any domestic process of notification, authorisation, recognition or registration.

3. The law must not allow officials to arbitrarily interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations. Provisions in the law allow the authorities to interfere excessively in the internal decisions, appointments, training, teachings and programmes of religious organisations. Limitations on the manifestation of freedom of religion or belief must never exceed in either purpose or scope those permitted in article 18(3) of the ICCPR. As the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Heiner Bielefeltd, said after his visit to Vietnam in 2014, “…registration should be an offer by the State but not a compulsory legal requirement.”

4. Ambiguous and potentially discriminatory language should be removed. The draft law contains ambiguous language regarding “good traditional cultural values” (Article 10.1) and “sowing division” (Article 5.4), that could be used to discriminate against ethnic and indigenous minorities, independent groups and those whose religion or belief is seen as “foreign” (Article 2.12).

5. Provisions should be made to establish legal channels and mechanisms for people to file complaints, and have those complaints independently investigated and acted on, in cases of alleged violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

For these reasons, we strongly urge that the law be revised, in consultation with religious community representatives, including those of non-recognized religious communities, and experts in international human rights law, to ensure that the law protects the right to freedom of religion or belief in line with article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We look forward to hearing from you about this important matter. Please reply to the VCHR coordinator Penelope Faulkner at penelope.faulkner@gmail.com or the CSW coordinator Benedict Rogers at benrogers@csw.org.uk. Sincerely yours,

Original signatories: Benedict Rogers East Asia Team Leader, Christian Solidarity Worldwide Vo Van Ai President, Vietnam Committee on Human Rights Rafendi Djamin Director of Southeast Asia and Pacific Programme, Amnesty International Phil Robertson Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch Dimitris Christopoulos President, FIDH Nina Shea Director, Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom Hans Aage Gravaas Secretary General, Stefanus Alliance International Robert Hårdh Executive Director, Civil Rights Defenders Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt Executive Director, Rafto Foundation for Human Rights Nguyen Dinh Thang CEO & President, BPSOS Additional signatories: Joshua Cooper Executive Director, Hawai'i Institute for Human Rights Ven. Thich Thanh Quang President, Executive Institute, Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Lê Cong Cau Chairman, Buddhist Youth Movement of Vietnam (GDPTVN) Ven. Thich Huyen Viet Chargé d’Affaires, Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Overseas Nguyen Van Lia The Traditional Hoa Hao Buddhist Bloc Tran Ngoc Suong The Popular Council of Cao Dai Religion Charles Santiago MP Chairperson, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool Member, UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief Daniel Calingaert Acting President, Freedom House John Edmundson President, Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme Ann Buwalda Executive Director, Jubilee Campaign USA The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative Faith J. H. McDonnell Director, Religious Liberty Program, The Institute on Religion and Democracy Lilly Bliatout President and Founder, Southeast Asia Monitor for Human Rights and Justice Willy Fautré Director, Human Rights Without Frontiers Vu Quoc Dung Executive Director VETO! Human Rights Defenders‘ Network Former US Congressman Joseph Cao Chairman, Coalition for a Free and Democratic Vietnam John Alles Executive Director, Montagnard Assistance Project Tony Tran Chairman, Con Dau Parishioners Association Katie Duong Overseas Representative, Popular Council of Cao Dai Religion Rong Nay Chairman, Montagnard Human Rights Organization Pastor A Ga Representative, Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ Vũ Quốc Ngữ CEO, Defend the Defenders Huỳnh Thục Vy Coordinator, Vietnamese Women for Human Rights Lanney Tran Chairwoman, Women for Human Rights in Vietnam Nguyen Bac Truyen Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners’ Friendship Association Vietnam Independent Civil Society Organizations Network (VICSON) Matteo Mecacci President, International Campaign for Tibet Bob Fu Founder and President, China Aid Human Rights in China (HRIC) Han Dong-Feng Executive Director, China Labour Bulletin E-Ling Chiu Secretary General, Taiwan Association for Human Rights Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi Adilur Rahman Khan Secretary, Odhikar, Bangladesh Alvin Jacobson Amnesty International USA Group 56 Lexington, MA Kathy Herbst Amnesty International Group USA Group 524 Pittsburgh, PA Michael De Dora Director of Public Policy, Center for Inquiry Sara Colm Co-founder, Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam Isaac Six Advocacy Director, International Christian Concern Helen Ngo Chairwoman, Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam Nguyen Thanh Dung Association for Promotion of Freedom of Religions and Beliefs Vietnamese FoRB Roundtable Khin Ohmar Coordinator, Burma Partnership Bjørn Engesland Secretary General, Norwegian Helsinki Committee
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VCHR and Hudson Institute hold Conference in Washington D.C. on Religious Freedom in Vietnam



Conference in Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON D.C. 20 September 2016 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and the Hudson Institute held a conference on “Religious Freedom in Vietnam: Its Importance for Regional and Global Security” on 12 September 2016 at the Institute’s Stern Policy Center in Washington D.C. The conference brought together diplomats, academia, religious freedom experts, activists, lawyers, journalists and victims of religious persecution from religious communities including the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Hmong and Montagnards Christians and Khmer Krom Buddhists from all over the USA, Canada and Europe. Keynote speakers included former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Elliott Abrams, Commissioner Kristina Arriaga of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and Võ Văn Ái, President of the VCHR.

Religious Freedom in Vietnam, Its importance for Regional and Global Security - Video: https://t.co/haz8jOex6L See video : https://t.co/haz8jOex6L Violations of freedom of religion or belief were described in detail by experts and victims of religious persecution, including Võ Trần Nhật on the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), Venerable Kim Muol, Khmer Krom Buddhist monk and former political prisoner, Prak Sereivuth, Vice-President of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation, Tong C. Vang, Director of the South East Asia Monitor for Justice and Human Rights and religious freedom advocate for the Hmong people, and Sara Colm, expert on human rights issues in Vietnam and Cambodia, who spoke on the plight of Christian Montagnards.

At a time when the U.S. is about to elect a new administration, participants agreed that the conference marked a crucial moment for religious freedom in Vietnam. “This is an extremely timely event because the relationship between Vietnam and the United States is becoming closer, and also because within a month or so Vietnam will be adopting a new Law on Belief and Religion”, said Nina Shea. In May this year, U.S-Vietnam relations grew closer after President Obama lifted the U.S. arms embargo during his visit to Vietnam. The European Union is also strengthening ties with Vietnam, with the recent conclusion of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement. However, as several speakers at the Conference noted, improved relations should not give Hanoi’s communist regime a blank check to violate religious freedom and human rights.

In his opening remarks, VCHR President Võ Văn Ái noted that Western democracies and Vietnam were moving in completely opposite directions concerning religious freedom. Whereas the U.S. passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 and the EU has adopted Guidelines on Freedom of Religion of Belief (2013) and appointed Mr. Ján Figel as Special Envoy on FoRB outside the EU this year, Vietnam is seeking to use the law “to prevent, rather than protect this right”. Indeed, Vietnam’s National Assembly is about to adopt a highly controversial Law on Belief and Religion “which will legalize intrusive state interference into religious affairs and impose a draconian system of registration and control”, said Võ Văn Ái. Elliott Abrams, former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and former Deputy National Security Adviser stressed the fundamental importance of religious freedom: “A regime that does not permit freedom of thought and belief and worship is one that sees the inhabitants of the country not as citizens, but as suppliers of labor—to use the old term, as a proletariat. It sees them as cogs in the machinery, as automatons whose job is to work, to rally when assembled, and to shout praise of the regime when required. Thought—free thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion—would get in the way of all that. In communist systems, individuals have no rights; only the Party has rights”.

The U.S. should help Vietnam develop into a stable society that could be a long-term American ally, he said. “We should be urging the regime to stop fearing its own people, to stop acting as if their civic activity is always a threat. We should be urging the Vietnamese regime that it can develop a more harmonious society if they allow the people more freedom of religion. And we should be arguing that the only way for it to acquire the moral authority and legitimacy it seeks is to allow the people of Vietnam more freedom”. Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Commissioner of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, stressed that pressure for improvements could only be efficient if the U.S. government made it clear that relations were conditional on progress in religious freedom. ”We are at a unique moment of inflexion, because we are changing our administration. We must put pressure on the new administration, and they in turn must put pressure on Vietnam. They must tell Vietnam that if it wants to be fully integrated into the world community, it must treat religious freedom as a right, not as a gift by the state. Rights do not belong to governments, so governments can neither give them nor take them away”.

The daughter of a Cuban dissident of the Castro regime, Ms. Arriaga said it was vital to “name names” at every opportunity and press for the release of all those detained for their religious beliefs. Amongst others, she cited Thích Quảng Độ, leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Pastor Nguyễn Công Chính, Protestant human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài, Catholic blogger Nguyễn Hữu Vinh etc… “It is inexcusable that any US official should visit countries like Vietnam, China and my own country Cuba, and fail to name names”. She concluded: “the stark reality is that from the standpoint of international religious freedom, Vietnam does not live up to its commitments. This Conference deals with what we can do in the future. We must begin by demanding that the US designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC)”, she said, referring to the U.S. blacklist of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

Tina Mufford, Senior policy analyst and Vietnam specialist at USCIRF agreed that, unless there was a “sea change” in its religious policies, USCIRF would continue to designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) as it had done for the past 16 years. Ms. Mufford said that the main problem with the upcoming law on belief and religion was the government’s “whole attitude and its need to have a tight control over religions. There is no reason for that, no excuse for that, but that is what the new law, in its current form, represents”. USCIRF, she said, “would like to see Vietnam leave unregistered groups alone” and give legal recognition “to those who just don’t want to be associated with the government. They aren’t working against [the government], they just want to be independent. That would be our advice to the government of Vietnam as they move forward on the law on religion”.

Võ Trần Nhật, VCHR Executive Secretary, described government repression against the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). The UBCV is victim of “stealth repression”, he said, which consists of daily harassments, isolation, surveillance, house arrest and intimidation, with Buddhists being threatened with losing their jobs or seeing their children expelled from school if they attend UBCV pagodas. The new Law on Belief and Religion is a “trap” for religions, he said. “Non-registered organizations are not allowed to practice religion. There is no religious freedom for them. Religious groups which agree to be registered have to accept the total control of the Communist Party over their organization, their activities, the content of their teachings, their leadership and membership. There is no religious freedom for them either”. The conference concluded with a 2-hour roundtable session on best practices for inter-faith coalition building to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
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Kandhamal: Long Wait for Justice

Special Contribution
By Ram Puniyani

Hindutva fascists destroying a church in the 2008

Today, nearly a decade later when we are remember with pain the horrific violence of Kandhmal in 2008, many issues related to the state of affairs of communal violence, state of minorities, the state of justice delivery system come to one’s mind.

The incident

Just to recall, Orissa witnessed unprecedented violence against the Christian minority in August 2008. On August 23, 2008, Swami Laxmananand along with his four followers was killed, probably by a group of Maoists. Immediately, anti-Christian violence began on a big scale. The way it began it seemed as if preparations for it were well afoot. It was systematic and widespread. It sounded as if preparation was already there just the pretext was being awaited. (1)

Christians in India

Christians are a tiny minority in India. Contrary to the perception that British brought Christianity to India, it is one of the oldest religions of India. Its spread has been slow. Not much was heard against this minority till the decade of 1990s, when suddenly it started being asserted that Christian missionaries are converting. Anti-Christian violence has been occurring more in the remote-interior places and is accompanied by another phenomenon, that of Ghar Vapasi (return home), which is the conversions of Adivasis into the fold of Hinduism, by Vishwa Hindu Parishad-Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram. (2)

It is from 1996, that this phenomenon of conversion-anti Christian violence has captured the attention of all of us. Suddenly, as if from nowhere has descended the ‘threat of conversion to Christianity’ by force or fraud. Simultaneously, attacks on priests and nuns increased in distant interior places. It has been a peculiar phenomenon that while these attacks in remote places were being undertaken, the Christian institutions in cities – schools, colleges and hospitals – were hard pressed to cope with the demands on their services related to education and health. The selective targeting of Christian missionaries in distant places was a matter of serious attention, concern and introspection.

Social Common Sense

As the ‘social common sense’ started accepting, ‘yes, they are converting’, ‘they have been converting’, a sort of silent approval of layers of society and state officials did accompany these attacks on the missionaries. One was used to hearing about attacks on Muslim minorities so far. How come a new minority came to be perceived as the ‘source of trouble’ and hence started being targeted? (3)

Anti Christian violence did begin with isolated incidents like the attack on the Catholic Health Centre of India near Latur (1996), burning of Bibles and attacks on the Christian congregations. But most shocking was the burning alive of Pastor Graham Steward Stains (1999, January) along with his two sons, Philip and Timothy, aged 9 and 7 years, who were sleeping in a jeep after a village festival. Gradually the pattern of these attacks started emerging. In the remote places where Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams (Society for Welfare of Forest Dwellers), an outfit of RSS, have been active and doing the propaganda work along with starting of Ekal schools and have been Hinduising Adivasis, the incidents were more pronounced and intense.

Anti Christian Violence: Characteristics

The violence against Christian missionaries has by now become a matter of routine. Unlike the anti Muslim pogroms-violence, it has been scattered and generally low key, occurring at sporadic intervals. Barring few dastardly acts like Pastor Stains’ burning and Rani Maria’s being hacked to death the incidents were medium in intensity and did not take the shape of carnage or pogrom against the community till the one in Orissa (December 2007 and later August 2008). The occurrence of these incidents was mostly in places that are having rampant poverty and illiteracy. The apathy in highlighting these core issues, deprivations, by a section of media was appalling. At the same time, by word of mouth the propaganda against Christian Missionaries was intensified.

The message has been spread that Christian missionaries working in remote places are soft targets and one can get away without much reprisals. Also the anti-Christian mobilization of Adivasi youth through cultural manipulation was the groundwork on which the anti-Christian violence could sustain. In the atmosphere created by the activities of RSS progeny, local communal groups have felt emboldened to pick up any small issue and to make a violent incident out of it. Its’ frightening effect on the victims is tremendous. It also begins to polarize the local communities into Christian and non-Christian camps amongst whom the seeds of tension are sown.

Cultural: Agenda

The physical violence has been accompanied by cultural manipulation in these areas. The silent work to Hinduise Adivasis through religio-cultural mechanisms has been stepped up from last three decades. People like Swami Aseemanand (Dangs), Swami Laxmanand (Kandhmal, Orissa), followers of Asaram Bapu (Jhabua, MP) began their work in popularizing Hindu gods and Goddesses in the region. The choice of Gods/Goddesses from the vast pantheon of Hindu religion was a clever one. Here Shabri (Symbol of poverty and deprivation) was the main goddess, the idol for Adivasis. Temples in her names were started and regular Kumbhs (mass religious congregation of Hindus) were organized in her name. Kumbhs have been a tradition in Hinduism on fixed interval of time on the banks of Holy rivers; Ganges in particular. Modifying that tradition, these Kumbhs were organized in Adivasis areas. Here the work of conversion to Hinduism, the spread of ‘Hate against’ foreigners’, particularly Christians, was spread. In addition an atmosphere of terror was created against those who do not toe the line of Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram. (4)

Similarly the God Hanuman, the foremost devotee of Lord Ram was also made popular, by spreading his lockets and through different stories around him, in the Ekal Schools and Sarswati Shishu Mandirs. It created an atmosphere of divide in the Adivasi areas; Adivasis turned Hindus, the Hindu dalits and upper caste versus the Christians. It is this atmosphere of divisiveness, which has been at the root of the violence in these areas.

Political Agenda

This has been a part of the different activities undertaken by RSS combine to promote the agenda of Hindu nation. While RSS has floated many a organizations to communalize different sections of society, BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, etc. it has also unleashed a set of cultural activities, set of educational institutions along with infiltration in media, bureaucracy, police and military. They are gradually imposing the idea of Hindu nation and accompanying culture and ideas. The culmination of this has been the violence against minorities, polarization of communities along religious lines and ghettoization of minorities. While all this is going on the violence against minorities’ is the most visible part of this phenomenon.

The role of state agencies has been no different in these incidents than what it has been in the anti Muslim violence. In most cases, the administration has looked the other way when communal goons were on the rampage. The administration most often provided enough leeway for them to wreck havoc, indulge in intimidation, violence and to get away with that. The Adivasi areas, which were so far peaceful, started witnessing communal tensions. The area of violence in Adivasi regions is synonymous with the map of spread of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams and Vishwa Hindu Parishads in an indirect way.

RSS had been floating different organizations for different sections of society; Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, to Hinduise Adivasis was founded in 1952 and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad founded in 1964 was to play an important role in the anti Christian tirade in times to come. Another RSS progeny which, directly supported violence against Christians, Bajrang Dal, was founded by RSS in 1984. After the intimidation and browbeating of Muslim minorities, especially after the post Babri demolition Mumbai riots, they stepped up their social dominance and needed another community to target their trishuls for further expansion of their social and electoral base, and that was done by the bogey of forced conversions and accompanying anti Christian violence, which started coming to the fore from 1996 onwards. The targeting of minorities has played an important role in polarizing the communities, in consolidation of the majoritarian politics in various ways. (5)

The burning of Pastor Stains, in that sense was a turning point for Human rights groups, who so far were trying to grapple and respond to the anti Muslim violence. With this many concerned groups took up the investigations of the violence against Christians in the right earnest. As such, the first major cover up had to be undertaken by the BJP led NDA Government itself, in the aftermath of Stains murder. Initially, as a fire fighting measure, the functionaries of the NDA government tried to give a clean chit to the RSS combine. After the murder, the then home minister Lal Krishna Advani stated that he knows Bajrang Dal very well and this act could not have been done by that organization. To put a veil on the episode, the three cabinet ministers, George Fernandez, Murli Manohar Joshi and Navin Patnaik rushed to the site and proclaimed that the murder of Pastor is an international conspiracy to destabilize the BJP Government. This way they tried to bypass the real issue, i.e. involvement of Dara Singh, an activist of Bajrang Dal. (6)

Struggle for Justice: People’s Tribunals

The case of Orissa was specifically investigated by India Peoples Tribunal, led by Justice K.K.Usha (retired) of Kerala High court in 2006. (7) This tribunal forewarns about the shape of things to come. This tribunal assessed the spread of communal organizations in Orissa, which has been accompanied by a series of small and large events and some riots…such violations are utilized to generate the threat and reality of greater violence, and build and infrastructure of fear and intimidation. It further noted that minorities are being grossly ill treated; there is gross inaction of the state Government to take action. The report also describes in considerable detail how the cadre of majoritarian communal organizations are indoctrinated in hatred and violence against other communities it holds to be inherently inferior. If such communalization is undertaken in Orissa, it is indicative of the future of the nation… the signs are truly ominous for India's democratic future.

It is in this backdrop that when the Kandhamal carnage took place, the offense of RSS affiliates, the lapses and partisan behaviour of state machinery, the lack of rehabilitation and deliverance of justice came as a big jolt to the victims and became the matter of concern for human rights groups. The lack of proper investigation and other actions on the part of state were the key for getting justice for the victims. While many a sincere, scattered efforts to help the afflicted were undertaken by different groups. These efforts were effective but inadequate in their reach. The tribunal organized for Orissa violence under Justice A. P.Shah (Retd) brought out the truth of the carnage. The hope was that the victims will be suitably rehabiliatated and get justice. (8)

This tribunal observed, (excerpts)

“The appalling feature of the Kandhamal violence, where rescue and relief work by non-profit, charitable and humanitarian organizations was prohibited through a government notification, indicates the impunity with which the state government acted, and its scant respect for rule of law and human rights of the victim-survivors of the violence.”...

“The dismal conditions in the government-run relief camps are clearly indicative of the indifference of the state government to the plight of victim-survivors.”...”The testimonies of victim-survivors as well as the reports presented to the Tribunal indicate that victim-survivors were forcibly sent back to their villages, or abandoned near their villages, with total disregard to their safety.”...“Peace-building Initiatives: The fact that many victim-survivors are unable to return to their villages due to threats and intimidation by perpetrators, and many of those who have returned continue to live in constant fear and security, lead us to conclude that the state government’s peace initiatives have been a dismal failure and nothing more than an eyewash.”

It also made lot of recommendations about relief, rehaibilation, compensation and justice. This excerpt is very telling “Implementation of State’s Duty Towards Peace-building, Voluntary Return and Reintegration: The State should recognize the Internally Displaced Persons’ right to return to their homes and create all possible enabling conditions to facilitate such safe return in accordance with the above standards. The state ought to discharge its duty of creating a conducive, safe and peaceful environment that can sustain return or re-integration of victim-survivors through access to public services, legal and personal documentation, and to livelihoods and income-generating opportunities without any form of discrimination.”

As usual the recommendations of the tribunal remain in the limbo. The heartening feature of struggle for justice in Kandhamal is the dogged determination of the victims and human rights activists to get the justice. This is also the time to understand that justice is a long term goal also which requires a programmatic alliance between the struggling sections of society, be it dalits, Adivasis, women, workers or struggling sections of society. In the light of growing intolerance in society, in the light of the growing stifling of the democracy society the need to build social alliances to preserve democracy and human rights is all the more crucial at this juncture.
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In Vesak Message, UBCV leader Thich Quang Do calls on Buddhists to be catalysts for democratic change in Vietnam



Thich Quang Do

PARIS, 6th June 2016 – (IBIB). The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has issued his annual Message on the occasion of the Vesak (Birth of Buddha). In his Message, sent from the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon where he is under effective house arrest, the UBCV Patriarch urged Buddhists to play the role of peacemakers in this era of global conflict, and be calatysts for democraric change in Vietnam.

“Today’s world is torn by natural and environmental disasters, but also by man-made horrors such as violence, terrorism and ruthless struggles for power. The presence of Buddhists, wherever they may be, should be a source of peace and conciliation amongst human beings”.

As history has proved, he observed, “Vietnamese people have an extraordinary, lasting power to be a catalyst of other forces. This power is characteristic of our nation, and also characteristic of Buddhism. For Buddhism is founded on the principles of Wisdom, Compassion and Courage. If our nation has survived periods of foreign annexation, it is thanks to our tolerance, our capacity to sift and select, our perseverance and will for self development.”

In Vietnam today, the Communist Party’s political monopoly excludes Buddhists and other large sectors of the population from participating in Vietnam’s development process, and as a result, the people are pressing for human rights, democracy and religious freedom. For Thich Quang Do, “Freedom of religion is the mother of all freedoms. When the people’s right to freedom of conscience is denied and their right to practice their spiritual beliefs is suppressed, then all other freedoms, such as free speech, press freedom, the right to form associations and to demonstrate become inaccessible”.

In celebration of the Vesak, Thich Quang Do urged the Communist leadership to “practice the teachings of tolerance and compassion taught by Lord Buddha” and “focus on protecting the nation’s sovereignty and ensuring the welfare of the whole 90 million population, rather than concentrating wealth and privileges in the hands of a ruling minority of four million Communist Party members.”

He called on the Buddhist Sangha to “deepen their spiritual practice”, “set aside their personal interests and petty self-centredness”, take “enlightenment and liberation as their ultimate goal, and the salvation of all beings as their sacred mission.” His Message to all Buddhists was: “Open your hearts to Lord Buddha so that all pain and torment may be extinguished, and celebrate the Vesak as the Season to harvest Enlightenment.”

VESAK MESSAGE - On the Anniversary of the Birth of Buddha, Buddhist Era 2560 (2016) by the Most Venerable THICH QUANG DO Fifth Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam

Blessed be Lord Sakyamuni Buddha! For almost three thousand years, the coming of the Vesak has filled the world with ineffable joy and illuminated the earth with the light of the Dharma, just as the full moon’s brightness dissipates the darkness of night.

On behalf of the Bi-Cameral Institutes of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, I extend my warmest greetings to all Buddhist elders, monks, nuns and Buddhists at home and abroad. May the pure and noble spirit of the Most Honoured One will be with us all on this joyful Vesak Day. Open your hearts to Lord Buddha so that all pain and torment may be extinguished, and celebrate in the Vesak as the Season to harvest Enlightenment.

Today’s world is torn by natural and environmental disasters, but also by man-made horrors such as violence, terrorism and ruthless struggles for power. The presence of Buddhists, wherever they may be, should be a source of peace and conciliation amongst human beings. Since the end of the Cold War until today, people around the world have been waiting in hope for this harmony and concord to come. The situation in Vietnam for the past forty-one years has prevented Buddhists and Vietnamese people overall from developing their national talents and true Buddha-nature, and from contributing these talents to help raise Vietnam to the level of other civilized nations and build a peaceful and moral society within their own homeland.

In 1970, in his Message “The Catalytic Way”, the late First Supreme Patriarch Thich Tinh Khiet voiced a painful truth when he said: “The fact is that up to now, the Vietnamese people have never been allowed to speak their minds freely or realize their legitimate wishes. We Vietnamese, who love and cherish our country, should never allow anyone to misuse the people’s name for the sake of their own fame and profit, and pursue their aims of aggression and encroachment on our homeland.”

In an earlier Vesak Message in Buddhist Era 2513 (1969), Patriarch Thich Tinh Khiet made the following analysis: “As history has proved, the Vietnamese people have an extraordinary, lasting power to be a catalyst of other forces. This power is characteristic of our nation, and also characteristic of Buddhism. For Buddhism is founded on the principles of Wisdom, Compassion and Courage. If our nation has survived periods of foreign annexation, it is thanks to our tolerance, our capacity to sift and select, our perseverance and will for self development. It is thanks to these precious qualities that Buddhism has more than once helped the nation to bring harmony between diverse schools of Oriental thought that advocated either “turning one’s back on life” or “engaging oneself in life’s affairs”, thereby creating a balance for Vietnamese thinking under the independent era of the Ly and Tran dynasties which spanned over three centuries (1010-1400). (…) In the on-going conflict between world ideologies, Vietnam has been chosen as a testing ground. What began as a clash of ideologies has now escalated into an atrocious, devastating war. When the war ends, it does not mean that the ideological conflict will end with it. On the contrary, this conflict will be more ferocious than before, unless we choose the “Catalytic Way”.

For many decades, the Vietnamese people, in particular the peasants, workers and religious followers of all denominations, have yearned desperately for human rights, democracy and religious freedom. Because they know that as long as these basic elements are not guaranteed, they have no chance of enjoying happiness and a reasonable standard of living, and their country can never match the development of its ASEAN neighbours. Freedom of religion is the mother of all freedoms. When the people’s right to freedom of conscience is denied and their right to practice their spiritual beliefs is suppressed, then all other freedoms, such as free speech, press freedom, the right to form associations and to demonstrate, become inaccessible.

Since its creation in 1930, over the past 86 years, the Communist Party of Vietnam has held a monopoly of beliefs, expression and the press, especially since it took power over the whole country after the reunification of Vietnam. The more the Party’s doctrines are imposed, the more the people’s religions and views are suppressed. The more the Party’s dictates are absolute, the more the people’s right to life and expression are restricted, and gradually reduced to nothingness. As we celebrate this Vesak Day and our religion of compassion and peace, we urge the leaders of the Communist Party to reconsider, and practice the teachings of tolerance and compassion taught by Lord Buddha. We urge them to focus on protecting the nation’s sovereignty and ensuring the welfare of the whole 90 million population, rather than concentrating wealth and privileges in the hands of a ruling minority of four million Communist Party members.

Respected Elders, Venerable monks, nuns and lay-followers at home and abroad, To bring change, progress and peace to our homeland, I call upon each one of you to deepen your spiritual practice, just as the late Supreme Third Patriarch Thich Don Hau encouraged us with his parting words:

“The history of the spread of Buddhism in Vietnam and around the world has known times of tragedy and shame, but also glorious times of which we can be proud. The times of tragedy where when the Sangha’s essence was obscured, the Sangha were divided amongst themselves and followed different views; when their spiritual practice was in decline, and their perception of the Dharma was narrow and one-sided. On the other hand, the times of glory were those when the Sangha lived in harmony, when they set aside their personal interests and petty self-centredness to progress in their monastic life, taking enlightenment and liberation as their ultimate goal, and the salvation of all beings as their sacred mission.”

May the Most Honoured One protect us all. Blessed be Sakyamuni Buddha. Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, Full moon of the Fourth Month, Year of the Monkey, 2016 Buddhist Era 2560 Fifth Supreme Patriarch Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (Signature and Seal) Sramana THICH QUANG DO
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U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom places Vietnam on blacklist for violations of freedom of religion or belief



The 25-year persecution of the Hmong's Duong Van Minh religion

PARIS, 2 May 2016 (VCHR) – For the sixteenth consecutive year, since 2001, Vietnam is on a blacklist of countries singled out by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations” of freedom of religion or belief. USCIRF recommends that Vietnam be designated by the US administration as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC).

In its 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom released today, USCIRF recommends 17 countries for CPC designation in 2016. Ten are currently on the US State Department’s list: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. USCIRF recommends maintaining these ten, and adding seven other countries in which religious freedom is seriously abused: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam.

The US State Department designated Vietnam as a CPC in 2004 and 2005, but removed it in 2006 prior to Vietnam’s admission to the World Trade Organization. In August 2015, a delegation of USCIRF Commissioners visited Vietnam to assess the situation of freedom of religion or belief. “As the USCIRF’s report aptly reveals, religious freedom in Vietnam is a question of political control: state-sponsored religions have more freedom than independent ones, registered groups face less harassment that non-registered groups” said Võ Văn Ái, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR). “Clearly, the government and Communist Party are not seeking to promote freedom of religion or belief, but to consolidate State control of religions in Vietnam.”

According to the USCIRF’s findings, whereas significant progress has been achieved for some groups in certain areas, “on the other hand, the government’s continuing heavy-handed management of religion continues to lead not only to restrictions and discrimination, but also to individuals being outright harassed, detained, and targeted with physical violence”. Citing abuses against communities including the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), Khmer-Krom Buddhists, Cao Dai, Catholics, Hmong Protestants, Montagnards, Mennonites, Hoa Hao, Falun Gong practitioners and Dương Văn Minh followers, the USCIRF noted that, in particular, “religious organizations that choose not to seek government recognition face greater risk of abuse by government authorities”.

The report observes that certain abuses are committed by provincial and local officials because they do not understand government religious policies, but that “central government permits inconsistent and contradictory implementation” at a local level. Based on their meetings during the August 2015 visit, USCIRF concludes that there is “some degree of central government complicity in, or indifference to, provincial-level abuses”.

According to the report, whereas Buddhism is practiced by the majority of Vietnam’s 94 million population, “those operating independent from the state-sanctioned Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha often are government targets. This includes the leadership of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), such as Thich Quang Do, who remains under house arrest, and Buddhist Youth Movement leader Le Cong Cau. In April 2015, Le Cong Cau was detained and questioned for three days, and later in the year he was prevented several times from traveling to meet visiting government officials from the United States and Germany.” ---

Created under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan government advisory body that monitors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the US President, Secretary of State, and Congress. Under the International Religious Freedom Act, the U.S. may impose a series of measures, ranging from travel restrictions to economic sanctions, on countries designated as CPCs.
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Buddhist Youth leader Lê Công Cầu faces expulsion for supporting Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam



Lê Công Cầu

PARIS, 12 March 2016 (VHCR) – Security Police in the central city of Huế are preparing to forcibly expel Buddhist Youth leader Lê Công Cầu from his home because of his activities in support of the non-recognized Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).

Lê Công Cầu informed the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) today that Security Police are forcing him to move out of the flat in 154 Phan Bội Châu Street, Huế, where he has lived for the past 13 years. Over the past month, he has been subjected to threats, harassments and interrogations, Police have intimidated his landlord, and groups of hired thugs and plain-clothed security agents are threatening to throw his possessions into the street if he does not move out immediately.

In a recent “working session” (interrogation) at the Trường An District Police station on 9 March, Security Police told Lê Công Cầu they were expelling him (a) because of his support of the UBCV, which is considered an “illegal” organization, and (b) because, for the past two years, the Police had lost their status of “flag holder” in the government’s “emulation campaign” because of his presence in their district. Losing this status not only means a loss of prestige, but also a cut in perks and privileges for the local Security Police. “The Communist Party says that Security Police are “the servants of the people”. Yet they regularly abuse their powers to intimidate and repress peaceful citizens”, said VCHR President Võ Văn Ái. “Vietnam should cease harassment of Lê Công Cầu and all others who are simply urging the authorities to respect constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms and rights”.

Lê Công Cầu reports that harassments began at the beginning of February, during the Lunar New Year. Police summoned his landlord and said he must terminate Lê Công Cầu’s lease. The landlord was reluctant to do this, since Cầu regularly paid his rent and never caused any trouble. Police then increased pressure, subjecting the landlord to repeated “working sessions”, and finally threatening to cut off the electricity and water in his building if he did not expel Lê Công Cầu.

Understanding his landlord’s predicament, Lê Công Cầu looked for alternative accommodation. He found new lodgings, signed a contract and made a down payment. However, when the owner went to the Police to obtain the mandatory Temporary Residence Permit in the name of the new tenant, Lê Công Cầu, the Police refused. The same scenario occurred in five other places where flats were up to let. Wherever he went, his application was accepted, and then turned down. It became clear that Police had blacklisted Lê Công Cầu for residence in all the wards and districts in Huế.

In protest, Lê Công Cầu sent a letter on 7 March to the Huế provincial authorities and Security Police, with copy to VCHR President Võ Văn Ái, denouncing the Security Police’s unlawful harassment as violations of Article 22 of the 2013 revised Constitution which guarantees that “the citizen has the right to have legal domicile: Everyone is entitled to the inviolability of his domicile” and Article 23 which enshrines the right to freedom of movement and residence. He demands the right to stay in his present lodgings. In his letter, Lê Công Cầu also said he had been subjected to “hundreds of interrogations” over the past years because of his support for the independent UBCV. He stressed that this repression would never induce him to renounce his engagement for the UBCV and its leader, Most Venerable Thich Quang Do.

The arbitrary treatment of Lê Công Cầu is typical of the systematic harassments, intimidation, surveillance, physical assaults and detention faced by all followers of “non-recognized” religious movements, human rights defenders, bloggers and activists in Vietnam. In recent years, to avoid international condemnation, Vietnam has avoided high-profile political trials, but stepped up beatings and harassments against dissidents. “Vietnam holds a seat at the UN Human Rights Council and seeks to strengthen ties with the international community, yet at home it perpetuates a climate of fear aimed at stifling independent civil society voices”, said Võ Văn Ái. The VCHR has forwarded the case of Lê Công Cầu to the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.
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Vietnam Committee on Human Rights attends Asia Pacific Religious Freedom Forum in Taiwan



Participants of the APRFF, including Katrina Lantos-Swett next to Annette Lu, and Võ Trần Nhật on the front row

APRFFPARIS, 24.2.2016 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) described a pattern of grave violations of religious freedom in Vietnam at the Asia Pacific Religious Freedom Forum (APRFF), a high-level gathering of international personalities and organizations engaged in the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief.

The Forum, held in Taoyuan, Taiwan, from 18-21 February 2016, was organized by the Democratic Pacific Union, led by former Taiwanese Vice-President Annette (Hsiu-lien) Lu and the US-based China Aid, presided by activist and former political prisoner Bob Fu. Over 100 religious leaders, legislators, government representatives, journalists and civil society activists from 27 countries around the world took part in the APRFF, which is the first organization of its kind to bring together such a wide range of international personalities and organizations to discuss strategies to protect and promote religious freedom in the Asia Pacific region and beyond.

International participants included Commissioner Katrina Lantos-Swett of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Members of Parliaments from Taiwan, Indonesia, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Israel and European Union, with video messages from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, and US Congressman Christopher Smith. “By bringing together so many influential international and regional specialists, the Forum provided a rare opportunity to work together and exchange ideas, and opens new perspectives to advance religious freedom and collectively address the serious violations of this freedom confronting Asia and the Pacific region”, said Võ Trần Nhật, VCHR Executive Secretary, panelist at the event.

In his presentation, Võ Trần Nhật described how Vietnam, rather than seeking to promote freedom of religion or belief, has set up an elaborate system of restrictions and controls aimed at draining religious freedom and human rights of their very substance. Of particular concern, he said, was the new draft “Law on Belief and Religion” currently under debate in Vietnam’s National Assembly (5th Draft), which grossly contravenes the rights enshrined in Article 18 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam is a state party.

Võ Trần Nhật also unveiled the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights’ new report entitled: “Freedom of Religion or Belief in Vietnam: State Management of Religions.” The report analyses the new draft Law as well as other religious legislation in Vietnam, and demonstrates that they are designed to impose state control and turn religions into tools of the Communist Party. Religious communities refusing to submit to its dictates risk harsh persecution. VCHR Report “Freedom of Religion or Belief in Vietnam: State Management of Religions”

The VCHR report contains an important section on Vietnam’s policy of “stealth repression” against non-recognized, independent religious organizations such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), or its affiliated “Buddhist Youth Movement”, which are subjected to pervasive harassments, travel restrictions, Police surveillance and economic sanctions. It described the case of UBCV Patriarch Thích Quảng Độ, 2016 Nobel Peace prize nominee, subjected to diverse forms of detention (internal exile, prison and house arrest) over the past 30 years on account of his peaceful engagement for religious freedom, democracy and human rights. “Vietnam systematically violates freedom of religion and belief, and the new draft law, if voted as such, will subject religious communities to the control of the one-Party state. Urgent measures must be taken to prevent this happening”, said Võ Trần Nhật.

In its recommendations, the VCHR report called on Vietnam to withdraw the 5th draft Law on Belief and Religion and prepare a new draft that conforms to Vietnam’s obligations under Article 18 of the ICCPR, in consultation with religious and belief communities (both recognized and unregistered), international legal experts and the UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB. It called on the international community to ensure that bilateral relationships with Vietnam be dependent on measurable progress on freedom of religion and belief and human rights, and include specific provisions on the respect of these rights in trade agreements such as the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, or implementing legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other economic agreements to which Vietnam is a party. The report also urged the US to re-designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations as recommended by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in their 2015 annual report.

At the closing of the APRFF, participants adopted the “Taiwan Declaration” which underscored the crucial role of freedom of religion or belief and human rights in general for democracy, economic development and the expansion of civil society, and pledged to establish and reinforce existing networks of religious freedom advocates committed to promoting religious freedom in their respective countries and abroad, including the creation of both governmental and non-governmental mechanisms to promote religious freedom and related human rights in the Asia Pacific region.---
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Arrest and arbitrary detention of Mr. Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer and well-known defender of religious freedom

Dec 18, 2015

Nguyen Van Dai

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Vietnam.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) about the arrest and arbitrary detention of Mr. Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer and well-known defender of religious freedom.

According to the information received, on December 16, 2015 at around 8.30 am, about 25 police officers arrested Mr. Nguyen Van Dai at his house in Hanoi after searching his house and confiscating several of his belongings, including two laptops and one desktop computer, several USB sticks, a camera and two camcorders, books on human rights, four envelopes containing money that Nguyen Van Dai uses to support relatives of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, and his savings account’s bank book.

Mr. Nguyen Van Dai’s arrest occurred as he was preparing to meet European Union (EU) delegates who were in Hanoi for the fifth EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue, held on December 15. In a statement posted on its website, the Ministry of Public Security announced it had issued an arrest warrant on December 15 for Mr. Nguyen Van Dai’s arrest.

Mr. Nguyen Van Dai was charged under Article 88 of the Criminal Code (“spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”) for organising meetings and discussions on the 2013 Vietnamese Constitution. Mr. Nguyen Van Dai was informed that he would be temporarily jailed for four months at the B14 Prison in Hanoi, pending trial. If convicted, he faces three to 20 years in prison.

The Observatory recalls that, in July 2002, the United Nations Human Rights Committee denounced the provisions of Article 88 as “incompatible” with international human rights law and demanded their immediate repeal.

Mr. Nguyen Van Dai’s arrest took place after he was subject to a brutal attack on December 6, 2015. On that day, Mr. Nguyen Van Dai and three associates were returning to Hanoi in a taxi after conducting a human rights workshop for residents of Nghe An Province. The four were intercepted and beaten up by men they identified as plainclothes police officers driving two unregistered cars and five motorcycles. The assailants beat Mr. Nguyen Van Dai using metal bars, then dragged him into another vehicle, where masked men took his mobile phone, wallet, and other personal items, before finally releasing him about 50 kms from the place where the attack had taken place.

The Observatory recalls that it is not the first time Mr. Nguyen Van Dai is being intimidated or judicially harassed. Also, in 2007, Mr. Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to five years in prison and four years probationary detention (house arrest) on charges of anti-government propaganda. The sentence was reduced to four years on appeal (see background information).

The Observatory condemns the arbitrary arrest of Mr. Nguyen Van Dai, as well as the charges against him, which seem to be aimed at sanctioning him for his legitimate and peaceful human rights activities. The Observatory calls on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him and to drop all charges held against him. Moreover, the Observatory is concerned over the authorities’ ongoing crackdown on bloggers and human rights activists, which has significantly worsened during the year 2015.

Background information:

Since Mr. Nguyen Van Dai founded the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam (now named the Vietnam Human Rights Centre) in November 2006, he has been summoned repeatedly for police interrogations because of his statements in favour of human rights and democracy. During the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which took place in Hanoi from November 17 to 19, 2006, 10 security police officers surrounded his home and prohibited all visitors.

On February 28, 2007, following pressure from Security Police, the Business Registration Office of Hanoi’s Planning and Investment Bureau issued a “Decision” to withdraw the licence of the Translation and Legal Consultation Firm (TNHH) in Hanoi, of which Mr. Nguyen Van Dai is a co-founder and the Executive Director.

On March 6, 2007, security forces raided the residence of Mr. Nguyen Van Dai in Hanoi and placed him under arrest. He was charged with “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (Article 88 of the Criminal Code). On May 11, 2007, the People’s Court of Hanoi sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment and four years’ house arrest under Article 88 of the Criminal Code.

On November 28, 2007, the Hanoi Appeals Court reduced his sentence to four years’ imprisonment and four years’ house arrest. Following his release in 2011, Nguyen Van Dai continued his human rights activities, submitting testimony to international institutions. He founded the “Brotherhood for Democracy” in 2013.

In June 2013, his house was bugged by the police, and in January and March 2015, his door was twice broken down by police. Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in Vietnam urging them to: i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Nguyen Van Dai and all other human rights defenders in Vietnam;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Nguyen Van Dai as his detention seems to merely sanction his human rights activities and is contrary to national and international law;

iii. Put an end to all acts harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Nguyen Van Dai, as well as against all human rights defenders in Vietnam;

iv. Amend Article 88 of the Criminal Code, to bring it in conformity with international human rights standards;

v. Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular: - its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,

- as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

vi. More generally, ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Vietnam.

Addresses: • H.E. Mr. Pham Binh Minh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1 Ton That Dam St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37992000; 080 48235; Fax: 84-4-38231872 – 84-4-37992682, Email: bc.mfa@mofa.gov.vn • H.E. Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh, Minister of Interior, 37A Nguyen Binh Khiem St., Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-39764116 – 84-4-39764278; Fax: 84-4-39781005 • H.E. Mr. Ha Hung Cuong, Minister of Justice, 56-60 Tran Phu St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37336213 – 84-4-37338068 ; Fax: 84-4-38431431 • H.E. Mr. Tran Dai Quang, Minister of Public Security, 44 Yet Kieu St., Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-069 42545 - 84-4-048 226602; Fax: 84-4-9420223 • H.E. Mr. Vu Duc Dam, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG), 1 Hoang Hoa Tham St. Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-80 43100 ; 84-4-80 43569; Fax: 84-4-80 44130 • Mr Nguyen Trung Thanh, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotential, Permanent Representative, 30 chemin des Corbillettes, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland; Tel (Assistant): +41 022-791 85 40; Phone: +41 (0) 22 791 85 40; Fax: +41 (0) 22-798 07 24; Email: info@vnmission-ge.gov.vn • HE Mr. PHAM Sanh Chau, Ambassador, Boulevard Général Jacques 1, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: +32 (0)2. 379 27 37 and (0)2.379 27 49 ; Fax: +32 (0)2. 374 93 76; Email: vnemb.brussels@skynet.be - unescochau@yahoo.com Please also write to the embassies of Vietnam in your respective country.
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Adivasis say they are not Hindus

Special Contribution
By Xavier William

Adivasis

Sanghis boast they represent all Hindus which according to them comprise of the four Vedic castes as well as of the the dalits, the Dravidians, the dasyus, the Adivasis and other Indigenous ethnic groups of India. However there are voices of dissonance. Here is one: Mangalore, Feb 12: Calling for more academic research into primal religions in the country, Padma Shri award winner and former Vice-Chancellor of Ranchi University Ramdayal Munda has said that the Adivasis in India have been wrongly categorised as Hindus for the sake of administrative convenience. “Adivasis are followers of ‘Adi-Dharam’ not Hindiusm,” Mr. Munda said, while delivering the keynote address at the inaugural session of a three-day seminar on “Spirituality of primal religions”, organised by the Mangalore Diocesan Chair in Christianity on Thursday.

Mr. Munda said that there were only six officially recognised religious classifications in the country, namely Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism and a grouping of small but organised religions termed “Others”. Of the over 10 crore Adivasis in the country, 90 per cent had been placed within the Hindu fold and the rest had embraced Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. Stating that ancient Adivasi practices had nothing in common with the Vedic traditions of Hinduism, he said that Adivasis had been reluctantly accommodated at the bottom of the Hindu fold.

Ulterior motive

Despite the reluctance, the Adivasis were accommodated within Hinduism with the ulterior motive of forming a formidable political grouping in pursuit of cultural nationalism, he said. He was equally critical of the other organised religions such as Christianity and Islam, which admitted Adivasis but kept them marginalised and diluted their ethnic identity, according to him.

Mr. Munda, who has co-authored a book on Adi Dharam, which is a compilation of various spiritual practices and beliefs of Adivasis, said that more efforts should be made to document the orally inherited cultural traditions of these people in the country. Such studies across the country would help in scientifically establishing the already well-known belief that Adi Dharam ran like a common thread through Adivasi cultures across the country. “Worship of forces of nature, ancestors and deification of local heroes is central to all Adivasi practices,” he said.

Study needed

An academic study into the practices of over 500 Adivasi communities would also help in restoring the self-respect of the Adivasis, who had always occupied an amorphous position, somewhere on the fringes of organised religions. “Such studies will help Adivasis notice that they are the same people. This will have powerful political ramifications that can lead to the emancipation of the community,” he said. He said that Dalits too should be part of this social, political and cultural grouping, since their cultural practices too bore close resemblance to Adivasi traditions.

He was opposed to Ambedkar’s efforts on converting the Dalits into Buddhism. “Firstly, there is a concerted effort to project the Buddha as the incarnation of a Hindu god. Secondly, the act of conversion takes away Adivasi and Dalit pride in their primal spiritual beliefs,” he said.
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Interview with The Lutheran Church in Korea Pastor Dr. Chul-Hwan Kim



The Lutheran Church in Korea President Pastor Kim

The Global Digest has interviewed with Pastor Dr. Chul-Hwan Kim, he is currently serving president of The Lutheran Church in Korea (LCK), a 4 years term. If he elected second term, he can serve another 4 years as their system, and the election is by LCK pastors and lay representatives, Pastor Kim smiling said .

According to Pastor Kim, the first Lutheran missionary came in Korea was a German missionary Gutzlaff in July 1832, but he stayed for 2 months only and he let other Korean Lutheran followers to continue the ministry. Interestingly, Gutzlaff is the first person introduced potato in Korea and how to plan it as well.

However, Gutzlaff was not recognized as a missionary by other churches in Korea. In Official, LCK was started in January 1958 by US missionary under the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Presently, LCK has 51 congregations, 6,000 members, 60 pastors, 2 business buildings and 1 Lutheran University which has 500 students. University offers language study program, social welfare, counseling and theology. At the moment, LCK has initiating oversea mission relation with 5 countries, German, Japan, Finland, Vietnam and US. LCK introduced one institute in Vietnam by providing $20,000 and one missionary pastor in Japan.

In worldwide, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has 134 branch churches in 74 countries, their headquarter is located in Geneva. LWF has a total 100 million memberships, the largest next to Roman Catholic in Christianity. All Lutheran branches are not merely linked each other, depend on geographically they divided and each own has independent administration system. Similarly, LCK was independent administration from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) after 1998.

In term of theology, they all are the same basic theology of Martin Luther, Pastor Kim reaffirmed. Each country Lutheran church may be different in e.g. their own local traditional music, but main theology can’t change. LCK has freedom of religion and no restriction by authority in Korea, similar to other Christian churches. All religions are freedom to worship in South Korea. Pastor Kim is also thinking ministry among Buddhism in Asia, such as in Myanmar. He also expresses sorrow for recent Flood disaster in Myanmar.
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US Commission on International Religious Freedom visits detained Buddhist leader Thich Quang Do in Vietnam



USCIRF delegation, from left to right: Tina Mufford, Commissioner Reese, Commissioner Mark, Patriarch Thich Quang Do, Commissioner Mary Ann Glendon

PARIS, 27 August 2015 (IBIB) – On Tuesday 25 August, a delegation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) visited the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, prominent dissident and Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where the Buddhist leader is under effective house arrest. The USCIRF delegation included Commissioner Mary Ann Glendon, former US Ambassador to the Holy See, Comissioner Daniel I. Mark, Commissioner Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J. and Ms. Tina Mufford, USCIRF Policy analyst for East Asia-Pacific. They were accompanied by Charles Sellers, Political Section Chief at the US Consulate General and David Muehlke, Human Rights officer at the US Embassy in Hanoi.

The USCIRF members questioned Thich Quang Do about the situation of the Unified Buddhist Church (UBCV), which is not recognized by the Communist authorities in Vietnam. Patriarch Thich Quang Do described the daily harassments, threats and restrictions imposed upon UBCV monks, nuns and lay-followers all over the country, and the repression against the UBCV-affiliated Buddhist Youth Movement, whose leader Le Cong Cau has been repeatedly banned by Police in recent months from travelling from his home in Hue to meet diplomatic delegations. Regarding his own situation, Thich Quang Do, 87, said that the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery “has been my whole universe for almost fifteen years. In 2001, I was detained incommunicado here for two years for launching an appeal for democracy and human rights. On my release in 2003, the authorities again condemned me to house arrest, this time on verbal orders, without any formal charge. I have remained here ever since, a prisoner in my own pagoda”. But Thich Quang Do stressed that his situation was not unique: “All civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders, religious followers or political dissidents who dare to speak out for human rights face harassment, intimidation, surveillance or detention. Plain-clothed security agents ruthlessly beat young men and women in order to frighten them and reduce them to silence”. Vietnam is perceived as a blooming economy and attractive tourist haven, he said, “yet beneath this thin veneer of legitimacy lies a dark, silent world of repression, violence and fear. Vietnam has opened its economy, but it remains a one-Party, totalitarian state”.

The UBCV leader told the delegation that religious communities were a primary target of repression because they remained independent of the ruling powers: “In Vietnam, the religious communities, especially Buddhism, Vietnam’s majority religion, are the strongest independent voices of civil society. For the past forty years, the authorities have sought to suppress the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, harassing our members, detaining and even murdering our leaders, and outlawing our activities. Yet we have survived, and we will continue to do so, whatever price we have to pay”. In his recommendations to USCIRF, Patriarch Thich Quang Do urged them to seize the opportunity of the National Assembly’s debate on reforming the Criminal Code to press for the repeal of vaguely-worded “national security” provisions such as article 79, 87, 88 or 258 which are invoked to detain peaceful critics, bloggers and religious followers;

The UBCV leader also recalled the observation of Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief who visited him last July, that the autonomy of independent, “non-recognized religions” was the litmus test of religious freedom in Vietnam. He urged USCIRF to “urgently press Vietnam to re-establish the legal status of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, release all our detained members, and guarantee our full freedom of religious activity. Then, we can actively contribute to the economic, social and spiritual development of our country”. Created under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, US Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan government advisory body that monitors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the US President, Secretary of State, and Congress. In its Annual Report in April 2015, USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” for its “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations” of freedom of religion or belief.
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US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski visits detained Buddhist Patriarch Thich Quang Do



UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do, US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski and Consul General Rena Bitter

PARIS, 6 August 2015 (IBIB) – Mr. Tom Malinowski, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, visited prominent dissident and Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Thich Quang Do at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City where the UBCV Patriarch is under effective house arrest. He was accompanied by US Consul General Ms. Rena Bitter, Special Assistant to Mr. Malinowski Rodney Hunter and Charles Sellers, Political Section Chief at the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.

The meeting took place on Wednesday morning (5 August) and lasted for over an hour. UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do told IBIB Director Vo Van Ai that the meeting was very open and cordial. He asked IBIB not to reveal all the details of the discussion, but said he had expressed his concerns to the US Assistant Secretary of State on a wide range of issues including religious freedom, development, human rights and democratization in Vietnam.

Patriarch Thich Quang Do, 87, informed Mr. Malinowski of the government’s systematic repression against the UBCV over the past 40 years, with the harassment, intimidation, assaults and surveillance of monks, nuns and lay-followers. He also described his own situation, confined under house arrest without charge at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery since 2003 under the permanent surveillance of “not-so-secret Police”, and deprived of the right to travel and communicate freely. In his remarks to Mr. Malinowski, Patriarch Thich Quang Do said Vietnam repressed the UBCV because it was afraid of anything it could not control. But this policy was bound to fail, he said, for “Buddhism has been in Vietnam for the past 2,000 years. It is part of the people’s psyche, their culture, their very identity. Buddhism was there before this regime came to power and it will still be there when it has gone.”

Hanoi should not be afraid, said Thich Quang Do, but rather “embrace pluralism without fear. Diversity is a treasure, not a threat”. The UBCV is not Vietnam’s enemy, he said: “We love our country (…) if we speak out for freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association, it is not because we are “hostile forces” trying to undermine the regime, but because we believe that human rights are the tools with which we can build a prosperous and caring society, based on mutual respect and the rule of law. We believe that everyone should have the right to participate in shaping their own destiny and determining their country’s future.”

Whilst welcoming strengthened relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, he urged Mr. Malinowski to ensure that the United States maintained human rights as the cornerstone of this relationship. “This gives you real leverage to help Vietnam embark on the road to reform. Many countries merely pay lip-service to human rights in order to do “business as usual” with the communist regime. I trust and believe that the United States will not follow this path”.

Lê Công Cầu, head of the Buddhist Youth Movement and Secretary-general of the UBCV’s Executive Institute Viện Hòa Đạo was invited by Thich Quang Do to join the meeting. However, as Lê Công Cầu prepared to leave his home in Huế on 4 August, he was intercepted by Security Police and placed under house arrest. Police prohibited him from travelling to Saigon, stating specifically that he must not participate in the meeting with the US delegation. They said he would be released when Mr. Malinowski had left Vietnam. Lê Công Cầu wrote a letter to US Ambassador Ted Osius in Hanoi, calling on the U.S. to protest this mistreatment and monitor the situation of the outlawed UBCV. ---
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UBCV leader Thich Quang Do issues Vesak Message calling on Buddhists to engage for freedom and justice in Vietnam



Thich Quang Do

PARIS, 1st June 2015 (IBIB). The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has issued his annual Message on the occasion of the Vesak (Birth of Buddha) which is celebrated today, 1st June 2015. In his Message, sent from the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon, where he has been held under effective house arrest since 2003, the UBCV Patriarch recalls the fundamental Buddhist principles of tolerance, mutual respect and understanding, and urges Buddhists to rally together to build a just and caring society in Vietnam.

“Whilst history progresses and moves forward, the Vietnamese people are being pushed backwards, abused and oppressed by a totalitarian regime that betrays our Vietnamese heritage. Today, we Vietnamese have human bodies, but we have no human rights”, he writes. “Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, there is still no peace in Vietnam. The government has unified the country, but it has failed to unify the people’s hearts”. He urges Vietnamese Buddhists to reshape Vietnam’s destiny “by elevating human dignity for each individual and self-determination for our nation as the foundations on which we will re-establish our culture of freedom and humanity. Inspired by these ideals, we can resist aggression in all its forms, from territorial encroachments to invasion by ideologies which have alienated and divided our people over the past sixty years (...) The fact is that as long the government looks on its citizens as the means and not the end, the Vietnamese people will never know happiness and our country will never be free”.

VESAK MESSAGE On the Anniversary of the Birth of Buddha, Buddhist Era 2559 by the Most Venerable THICH QUANG DO Fifth Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam

Blessed be Lord Sakyamuni Buddha ! Each year, on this auspicious Vesak Day, Buddhists around the world remember the Enlightened One, and reflect upon the great and noble vow taken by Sakyamuni Buddha almost three thousand years ago to seek an end to universal suffering. Since Buddhism was introduced into Vietnam two thousand years ago, it has spread the spirit of engagement to serve humankind, and unfurled the path to enlightenment across our land. Wherever the place, whatever the time, Buddhists live each day in rhythm with this commitment to help others, and strive with each breath to realize this noble vow.

Strong with this spiritual heritage, side by side with the people, Buddhists have made great contributions to the development of Vietnamese civilization and the foundation of the nation. Over one thousand years of Chinese rule, Buddhists instigated hundreds of resistance movements, and played a key role in the establishment of the very first independent Dai Viet state under the Ly dynasty. Vietnamese people were drawn to Buddhism because it is the key to a world of peace, harmony and happiness, based on teachings of tolerance, understanding and infinite compassion. It is the key to a just society in which people live in mutual respect, promoting social equality and seeking the emancipation and enlightenment of all. Sharing this common vision of freedom and justice, the Vietnamese nation and Buddhism have always stood united in the mission of defending and liberating the people.

However, whilst history progresses and moves forward, the Vietnamese people are being pushed backwards, abused and oppressed by a totalitarian regime that betrays our Vietnamese heritage. For the past sixty years, we have been trapped in a succession of wars and ideological conflicts at the bidding of others. We have been pushed to the very confines of suffering, with no hope of escape. Today, we Vietnamese have human bodies, but we have no human rights. This is why, forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, there is still no peace in Vietnam. The government has unified the country, but it has failed to unify the people’s hearts. The fact is that as long the government looks on its citizens as the means and not the end, the Vietnamese people will never know happiness and our country will never be free.

Therefore, today, as hundreds of millions of Buddhists around the world celebrate the Vesak, I call upon all Vietnamese Buddhists, at home and abroad, to remember Lord Buddha, to think deeply on his noble vow to save all beings, and transform ourselves into a driving force to reverse this trend and reshape our destiny. Reshape our destiny by elevating human dignity for each individual and self-determination for our nation as the foundations on which we will re-establish our culture of freedom and humanity. Inspired by these ideals, we can resist aggression in all its forms, from territorial encroachments to invasion by ideologies which have alienated and divided our people over the past sixty years.

I call upon you all to deepen your faith, diligently observe Buddhist teachings, and be guided by the Six Principles of Harmonious Living, so you may put an end to internal quarrels rooted in ignorance and selfish interests, and concentrate on strengthening Buddhism and rebuilding our homeland, Vietnam. On this sacred Vesak Day, as we stand before the altar, I call upon all members of the Sangha, respected elders, monks and nuns, all Buddhist lay-followers at home and abroad, to pay a silent tribute to all Buddhist martyrs who sacrificed their lives to defend our nation’s freedom and protect the faith. Now, more than ever before, the selflessness and solidarity amongst monks, nuns and lay-followers will have a decisive impact on our movement to emancipate all beings from suffering and liberate them from bondage.

Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, Saigon, Vesak Day, Buddhist Era 2559 Fifth Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (Signature and Seal) Sramana THICH QUANG DO
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