The Interfaith Council of Vietnam has denounced the harsh sentences imposed on six members of the Peng Lei Buddhist house.
They were sentenced last week to a combined 23 years and six months in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Penal Code.
Police suspended investigations into new allegations of incest and fraud, but said other charges could follow.
The council, dedicated to the fight for religious freedom, has members representing five major religions in Vietnam: Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Cao Daism and Hoa Hao Buddhism.
In a statement, the organization expressed “strong opposition to this unjust and illegal case, contrary to the fundamental principles of international justice”.
At the same time, the group denounced the Vietnamese government for “defying the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, depriving the Vietnamese people of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion and expression, freedom of association and the right to a fair trial”. .”
Thich Khong Tanh, co-chairman of the Interfaith Council, told RFA why the group released its statement.
“The Interfaith Council has been present in Vietnam for ten years and its position has always been to defend freedom of religion, belief and human rights in Vietnam.”
This [sentence] constitutes a serious violation of the issue of freedom of religion and belief. It is also an insult to the dignity of human beings, just as the human rights of the Vietnamese people are not respected. »
During the trial, one of the issues raised by the judge was that the Peng Lei sect had refused to register to join the Vietnamese Buddhist Church.
Retreat leader Le Tung Van said it was because he felt the Vietnamese Buddhist Church was “unworthy” to participate.
Thich Khong Tanh said that the Peng Lei sect has the right to practice Buddhism as they wish, not necessarily by joining the Vietnamese Buddhist Church:
“You naturally force people into your circle for you to manage, so how can that be called freedom of belief, freedom of thought, freedom of religion.”
“Vietnamese Buddhism is very diverse and the practice takes many forms. Due to the Buddha’s teachings, there are forty-eight thousand cultivation methods. So, according to people, if we can access something taught by the Buddha and if we want to practice, we can all get it.
Since 2016, Thich Khong Tanh has held the position of Deputy Co-Director of the Sangha Executive Council of the United Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam, a separate organization from the church dating back to the Republic of Vietnam.
Another member of the Interfaith Council of Vietnam, Secretary Cao Dai Hua Phi, also told RFA that the statement made by the organization to affirm the religious freedom of its members and denounce the Vietnamese state’s repressive policies was justified:
“We are fighting for Vietnam to have freedom of religion. No one has the right to force us to follow a religion we don’t like.”
“Secondly, we see that for these unjust judgments, the online community as well as activists need to speak out to let the world know that in Vietnam, leaders often impose their own versions of the law and use sanctions to deter those who do not obey the will of the authorities.
He also said the government initially falsely accused Le Tung Van of committing incest, but then used Section 331 to try to show that the nature of the case was to abolish unregistered groups such as the Peng Lei sect.
On July 26, the provincial police chief of Long An said there was not enough evidence to charge Le Tung Van with incest and said he would stop accepting allegations of this crime.
The Inter-Religious Council also “called on the United Nations Human Rights Agency, international human rights organizations and liberal and democratic countries around the world to put pressure on the Communist government of Vietnam so that it respects human rights and complies with international judicial procedures and principles for the Vietnamese people.”