July 11, 2008

Vietnamese Buddhist Dissident Laid to Rest – Kyodo

Text of report in English by Japan's largest news agency Kyodo

Quy Nhon, Vietnam, July 11 Kyodo - About 2,000 people on Friday attended the funeral of Thich Huyen Quang, leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, who spent over half his life in prison, internal exile or under house arrest.

The funeral was held at the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh Province, central Vietnam, where he died last Saturday at the age of 87.

His deputy and close associate, Thich Quang Do, also a vocal critic of Vietnam's single-party rule, was allowed to leave house arrest in Ho Chi Minh City to attend the funeral.

After the ceremony, Do told Kyodo News, "We were very close for more than 45 years. He was one of the most important people among Vietnamese Buddhists."

However, Nguyen Van De, administrator of the management board of Buddhist Church in Binh Dinh Province, said, "Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do are both illegal monks because they belong to the UBCV."

He criticized Quang as an "extremist" who espoused anti- government views.

According to Do, Quang's successor to lead the UBCV will be selected in a month's time.

Quang, who joined the monkhood at the age of 12, opposed French colonial rule and the US-led Vietnam War.

When the UBCV was founded in 1963, he became its deputy leader.

During the Vietnam War, Quang was actively involved in the Buddhist peace movement. He represented the UBCV at several international conferences, such as the World Conference of Religion for Peace held in Japan in 1970.

After the reunification of Vietnam in 1975, Quang became an outspoken advocate for democracy and human rights. He was first arrested in 1977 after publicly calling on the government to recognize the UBCV.

In 1981, the Communist government combined the country's eight Buddhist groups to form the state-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church. But the UBCV refused to join to VBC.

Quang was arrested in 1982 and sent into internal exile in central Vietnam, where he would remain under house arrest for virtually the rest of his life.

That same year he achieved international renown when he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by two former laureates.

Quang became supreme patriarch of the UBCV in 1992, and the following year he issued the "Buddhist Proposal for Democracy and Human Rights," a landmark document calling not just for religious freedom but also free elections and a multi-party system.

In 1998, Nobel Peace Prize laureates including the Dalai Lama called for the release of both Quang and Do.

In 2003, there were signs of improving relations when he met with then Prime Minister Phan Van Khai. It was the first time a political prisoner had ever been received by a top government official.

Originally published by Kyodo News Service, Tokyo, in English 1328 11 Jul 08.

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