Civil society meets on freedom of assembly and of association

(VNRN) – Showing a firm determination to have an independent civil society in Vietnam, representatives from more than a dozen community and religious groups met June 5 at a Ho Chi Minh City temple belonging to a banned Buddhist church to discuss the right to freedom of assembly and of association.

The meeting, by itself, asserts that the right to assemble is a human right not dependent on any governmental permission. It took place despite a 2005 Decision 38 signed by the Prime Minister banning all unauthorized gathering “of a large number of people.” The Ministry of Police has sent out an official interpretation that says 5 people is a large number.

Pham Chi Dung, a former journalist who was once imprisoned for 6 months for his writing, noted that this very gathering, though still under the watchful eye of security police, was a sign that independent civil society can unify and begin to form.

Buddhist monk Ven. Thich Thien Minh called for the creation of an independent labor union that can protect workers and prevent violent rioting against foreign-owned companies.

The discussion drew the attendance of several well-known bloggers, dissidents, religious activists and human rights advocates including the Vietnam Path Movement, the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers. and others. Representatives from the Catholic Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Caodaiism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, and an unspecified Protestant church were at the Buddhist temple.

The location, Lien Tri temple, belongs to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), a church that has refused to be merged into the Buddhist church organized and recognized by the Vietnamese government and has been subject to harassment by the authorities. (Click here.) The temple’s abbot, Ven. Thich Khong Tanh was imprisoned for nearly 10 years after the war and was only released in 1987. Since then, the 71-year-old monk has been arrested several more times for his activities within the church, including one time receiving a 5-year sentence together with the more famous Ven. Thich Quang Do. (See report by Human Rights Watch here.)

Also attending was Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, another prominent dissident who has also been in and out of prison for his activities. One of Vietnam’s best known democracy activists, Dr. Que was also one of the earliest dissidents to be imprisoned under Article 258 when he was sentenced to 30 months in 2004 for his writings.

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