Thich Huyen Quang of Viet Nam
The Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist was the Orange group’s adopted prisoner of conscience since June 2002, up until his death on July 5, 2008 at the age of 87.
Regarded as a symbol of the fight for human rights and religious freedom in Viet Nam for his campaign against the religious controls imposed by his country’s communist governments, Quang achieved international renown in 1982 when two laureates nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Born Le Dinh Nhan in Binh Dinh province in southern Vietnam in 1919, Quang entered the monastic life at the age of 12. In 1945 he joined the movement resisting French colonial rule, but in 1951 he was jailed by Viet Minh revolutionaries for refusing to submit to communist control. Released in 1954, Quang was returned to prison in 1963 after challenging the US-backed South Vietnamese regime of the Catholic President, Ngo Dinh Diem, for its discrimination against Buddhists. Later that year he was appointed deputy leader of the newly formed UBCV.
When Vietnam came under communist rule in 1975, like many other religious groups the UBCV was subjugated by the government of the now unified state, and in 1977 Quang wrote to the Prime Minister, Pham Van Dong, detailing 85 specific instances of government repression. This led to his arrest, charged with opposition to government policy, together with five other prominent church leaders.
Brought to trial the following year, Quang received a two-year suspended jail sentence. His crimes were “agitating\break against the military service law and other social duties” and “sabotaging the people’s solidarity bloc, counter-revolutionary propaganda and exploiting religion to undermine security and order.”
In 1981 Quang was arrested again, for his refusal to sanction the incorporation of the UBCV into the official Vietnam Buddhist Church (VBC) that would allow the state to exercise greater control. The following year Quang was exiled to a pagoda in central Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province, where he was kept under constant surveillance.
Quang became head of the UBCV in 1992, and in 1993 he issued a “Buddhist Proposal for Democracy and Human Rights,” proposing not only religious freedom, but also free elections in a multi-party system. In particular, he called for the abolition of Article 4 of the constitution, which enshrined the political monopoly of the Communist Party. The following year security forces visited his pagoda, confiscating all his official papers and the seal of the UBCV. Quang was subsequently transferred to a new location where he was kept in total isolation.
This predicament did not go unnoticed; in 1998 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including the Dalai Lama, publicly called for his release.
Although he remained steadfast in his opposition to the Government, there were signs of improving relations in 2003 when Quang met the then Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai, in Hanoi. However, in October that year Quang was confined to the Nguyen Thieu monastery in Binh Dinh and cut off from other UBCV leaders. This new crackdown was in response to a meeting held by the UBCV to elect a new church leadership. Quang was also accused of possessing official papers containing national secrets.
This marked a watershed for Quang. In 2007 he refused on principle to attend a congress of the VBC in Hanoi and declined to participate in the International Day of Vesak Buddhist celebrations hosted by the Vietnamese Government in May. In the same year the Paris-based International Buddhist Bureau accused the police of Binh Dinh province of preventing Quang from attending a hospital check-up, although this was denied by a spokesman.
Throughout the period of his house arrest, Amnesty International considered the Venerable Thich Huyen Quang to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely because of the non-violent expression of his religious and political beliefs, and issued repeated calls for his immediate and unconditional release.