Thich Quang Do, head of the government-banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and a life-long advocate for democracy and religious freedom in the one-party communist state, died at the age of 93 on Feb. 22 in Ho Chi Minh City, international media and other sources said this week.
A 16-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, he had spent more than three decades in detention or under house arrest for his peaceful advocacy work.
Born in 1928 in Thai Binh province, Thich Quang Do was sent into internal exile in northern Vietnam for 10 years in 1982 for protesting the creation of a state-sponsored Buddhist Church and in 1995 was sentenced to five years in prison for organizing a rescue mission for flood victims in the Mekong Delta.
Released in 1998 due to international pressure, Thich Quang Do was later placed under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, where his communications were strictly monitored and he was denied freedom of movement.
He was expelled from the monastery in 2018 under government pressure and then traveled by train to his native Thai Binh province in the north, but later returned to Ho Chi Minh City to live at the Tu Hien pagoda, where he died on Saturday night.
The passing of the dissident monk, who in 2006 was granted Norway’s Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for his peaceful advocacy of human rights, was ignored by Vietnam’s state-controlled press.
One of the world's worst abusers
In April 2019, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called for Vietnam to be placed on a State Department blacklist of the world’s worst abusers of religious freedoms, noting that the country’s removal from the list 13 years ago had not eased violations under one-party communist rule.
Religious freedom conditions in Vietnam had “trended negative” during the previous year, USCIRF said in an annual report, adding that 244 prisoners of conscience held in Vietnam’s jails at year-end included “some who advocated for freedom of religion or belief, and others who simply professed or practiced their faith.”
“Local authorities continued to seize property from Catholic churches, Buddhist temples, and other religious groups for economic development projects without providing just compensation,” USCIRF said.
Meanwhile, police harassed religious leaders of different faiths for attending religious conferences overseas or for meeting with foreign diplomats, the rights group said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huynh Le, Written in English by Richard Finney.