PAGODA SIEGE

Vietnam’s communist government intensified its crackdown on the Unified Buddhist Church (UBC) when more than 200 armed security forces raided a 400-year-old pagoda in Hue and arrested two prominent monks there in November. The International Buddhist Information Bureau, a foreign organ of the UBC, said that the raid was part of a government plan to evict UBC monks from the Linh Mu pagoda, a treasured monument and longtime center of Buddhist activism, and place it under the charge of the state­sponsored Vietnamese Buddhist Church. Both monks arrested in the siege, Thich Hai Thinh and Thich Hai Chahn, had already served time in Vietnamese jails for supporting the UBC in a 1993 march for religious freedom.

Once South Vietnam’s largest Buddhist association, the Unified Buddhist Church was dissolved in 1982 and forcibly merged into the Vietnamese Buddhist Church. Since 1992 its leaders have revived the campaign to win recognition as an independent religious institution. Their efforts have met with harsh resistance from the Hanoi government, including seizure of church properties and the wide-scale arrest of the church’s most prominent figures.

DOUBLE JEOPARDY

The Chinese government hammered another nail in the coffin of Tibetan human rights when it sentenced a 30-year-old exiled Tibetan scholar to eighteen years in prison in December. In an announcement on Radio Tibet, Beijing said that Ngawang Choepel was convicted for spying on behalf of “the Dalai Lama clique” and “a certain foreign country,” a thinly veiled reference to the United Stares. Choepel, who was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach in America from 1993 to 1994, returned to Tibet in July 1995 to film traditional Tibetan folk songs and dances for a documentary. He disappeared a month after his arrival. Fourteen months later, after U.S. Senator James Jeffords (R-Vermont) petitioned the Chinese Embassy in Washington to disclose Choepel’s whereabouts, Beijing finally admitted to detaining the scholar.

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