By Vu Quoc Ngu, September 08, 2016
Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest economic hub in Vietnam, on September 8 seized Lien Tri Pagoda, evicting all monks despite their strong objection, social networks reported Thursday.
In the early morning of Thursday, the local authorities deployed hundreds of police officers and militia to An Khanh ward, District 2 to evict all the monks of the pagoda. They blocked all the roads leading to the Buddhist facility, not allowing a single individual to enter the areas.
Local authorities entered the pagoda and demanded its leadership to move to another place and when Venerable Thich Khong Tanh, head of the pagoda and other monks rejected, they detained them.
Ven. Tanh and some monks were taken out of the pagoda by medical ambulances while other monks were forced into a car which brought them to a resettlement site in Cat Lai, a remote area on the outskirt of the city.
After detaining the monks, workers with tractors came to demolish the pagoda which still hosts the remains of 500 deceased followers.
Due to the police brutality, Ven. Tanh was reported to have fallen ill. Currently, he is under medical treatment in a hospital in District 2.
Many activists in the city have complained that they are placed under de facto house arrest on the day as the local authorities deployed a large number of police officers to station near their private residences, not allowing them to go to the pagoda to support the monks.
Lien Tri Pagoda, built nearly 70 years ago, belongs to the unregistered Vietnamese Unified Buddhist Church. It has faced isolation and crackdowns for many years.
Authorities in District 2 want to take the land on which the pagoda is located for building the Thu Thiem urban project, and ordered the pagoda’s leadership to voluntarily move to Cat Lai with a compensation of VND5.4 billion ($274,000). However, Ven. Tanh and other monks are unwilling to move to the new place which is not convenient for worship.
Months ago, the city’s authorities had blocked the pagoda, not allowing followers to come for worship or pay tributes to their relatives whose remains are placed in the pagoda. Thousands of followers had been forced to move the remains of their relatives to other places.
Several weeks ago, diplomats from the U.S., the UK, Australia and Canada visited Lien Tri Pagoda to show their support for its monks. They also urged Vietnam’s authorities to settle the dispute peacefully and respect religious freedom which is enshrined in the country’s 2013 Constitution.
In communist Vietnam, all land belongs to the state and people and religious groups only have the right to use it. Local authorities can seize land for socio-economic development, and in reality, they have seized land belonging to families and organizations and sold them to developers of industrial and property projects at prices much higher than the compensation prices they offered.
Among victims of land seizure are thousands of Vietnamese families and religious groups, including Buddhist pagodas and Catholic churches across the nation.
Authorities in HCMC have so far forcibly removed 24 religious facilities in Thu Thiem for the new urban project.