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MARCH 6, 2000

We are deeply troubled by the Department of State report's inaccurate depiction of key events affecting our Church and fellow Hoa Hao Buddhists in Vietnam. The report gives the reader the false impression that the Vietnamese government acted in good faith when it convened a congress and allowed the formation of the Committee of Hoa Hao Representatives on June 11th, 1999. The report may cause the reader to wrongly believe that the large gathering on July 1st, 1999 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church was facilitated by and a sign of support for this government-created committee. With this statement we would like to present the reality that is amiss in the Department of State report.

Following its takeover of South Vietnam, the Communist goverment immediately proceeded to eradicate the Hoa Hao religion. An intercepted goverment document dated Feb. 18, 1979 laid out the 15-year campaign to exterminate the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church. According to this document, the government would need 3 to 5 years to destroy the "anti-revolutionary" Hoa Hao organization. In the second stage, which would last from 8 to 10 years, the government would proceed to stem out all "superstitious" practices among Hoa Hao followers. Most Hoa Hao leaders were executed or died in detention.

Those who survived went underground, working through a grassroots network to escape the scrutiny and retaliation of Communist authorities. In late 1998, these silent Hoa Hao leaders made plan for a mass public event to observe the 60 anniversary of the foundation of their church , in defiance of the goverment' ban. The event was to be held at the Ancestral Temple, the birthplace of the Church's founder and considered as the Holy Ground by all Hoa Hao Buddhist followers. These leaders secretly worked with overseas Hoa Hao organizations to rally international support for such event.

On February 16, 1999, a group of Hoa Hao elders officially wrote to President Tran Duc Luong, Communist Party Secretary General Le Kha Phieu, and Prime Minister Phan Van Khai to announce the planned celebration. Hoa Hao representatives overseas announced this plan to the world at the International Conference on Economic Development and Democracy in Vietnam and South East Asia, held in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 26-29, 1999.

Facing this direct challenge to its authority, the Communist government immediately convened a congress to form the Committee of Hoa Hao Representatives. Nine Communists are among its 11 members. The head of the Committee, Muoi Ton, is political officer of the People's Committee of An Giang Province. He is a 45-year veteran of the Communist Party.

The role of this Committee was to divide Hoa Hao followers and divert the plan for the mass celebration. The Committee immediately banned, among others, the use of the dark brown Hoa Hao flag and the term "Ancestral Temple" and restricted the celebration to a brief ceremony at a local Hoa Hao Buddhist temple instead of the Ancestral Temple. The People's Committee of An Giang Province announced on the radio that visitors to the Ancestral Temple must have temporary residence permits issued by the authorities.

On June 24, officials from the People's Committee, the Office on Religious Affairs, and from the Bureau on Propaganda met with Hoa Hao leaders and demanded that they drop their plan for the mass celebration. The government-created Committee of Hoa Hao Representatives banned gathering of more than 50 visitors to the Ancestral Temple. These attempts at intimidation failed: one million Hoa Hao followers convened at the Ancestral Home on July 1st. The authorities were completely caught by surprise.

After the event, the government immediately waged an elaborate campaign of intimidation and public control. On December 26 Truong Van Thuc, who had met Congressman Christopher Smith and several congressional staffers the week before, and eight other Hoa Hao leaders were arrested as they were organizing the 80th anniversary of the birth of Prophet Huynh Phu So, the founder of the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church. Many of these leaders were beaten by the police while in detention. Local authorities throughout the region blocked all Hoa Hao followers from leaving their homes to attend the celebration at the Ancestral Temple.

Undeterred, Hoa Hao leaders are currently mobilizing fellow believers to participate in a mass commemoration of the disappearance of Prophet Huynh Phu So, believed to have been abducted by the Communists in 1947. This event is being planned for March 30. The government has ordered a ban on this commemoration and has started an intense campaign of threat and intimidation against Hoa Hao Buddhists in Vietnam.

We are troubled by the superficiality and inaccuracy of the Department of State's report on human rights in Vietnam. It fails to inform the international public of the hardships, threats, and persecution that our fellow Hoa Hao Buddhists are increasingly facing in their struggle for religious freedom. We wish that the Departement of State had consulted our church representatives in the process of writing the report.

For more information, please contact Ms. Huynh Mai at

Statement approved by

Tran Van Tuoi
Central Council of Administrators
Hoa Hao Buddhist Church

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