As the Chair of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, I express grave concern over the imprisonment of Lê Tùng Vân, founder and spiritual leader of the Thiền Am Bên Bờ Vũ Trụ (Zen Hermitage on the Edge of the Universe) Buddhist Group in Vietnam for “abusing democratic freedoms” under article 331 of the Vietnam Penal Code 2015. I also express grave concern about the five other individuals who were also sentenced under the same law, to a combined sentence length of twenty-three years and six months; Lê Thanh Trùng Dương, Lê Thanh Hoàn Nguyên, Lê Thanh Nhất Nguyên, Cao Thị Cúc, and Lê Thanh Nhị Nguyên. I call for their immediate release.
I note with concern the imprisonment of Lê Tùng Vân, the 92-year-old founder and spiritual leader of the unaffiliated Buddhist Group in Long An Province, Vietnam, by the Đức Hoà District People’s Court on 21 July 2022; along with five other members of this religious group. The charges and convictions were premised upon allegations of distorting Buddha’s teaching and defaming the Public Security Office of Đức Hoà District and Buddhism. The allegations were made as a direct result of the prisoners conducting home-based religious practices and religious activities independent of the Buddhist Church of Vietnam.
I condemn the circumstances leading up to the conviction of these six individuals, who had established a safe house for the elderly and for orphans in the community and had been running a camp entitled Thiền Am Bên Bờ Vũ Trụ (Thiền Am on the Edge of the Universe) since 1990 under the leadership of Lê Tùng Vân. The unjust circumstances of the arrest allegedly included police surveillance inside the monastery from January until July 2022; confiscation of money from the premises by the police; spurious charges levelled at the prisoners but subsequently dropped; and the failure of the court to permit the prisoners due access to legal counsel during their trials.
It is highly likely that, owing to severe health ailments including hypertension, diabetes, and chronic anemia, the elderly Lê Tùng Vân will not survive the term of his imprisonment. We therefore condemn in particular the sentence handed down to him and call for the immediate release of all six and for all charges to be dropped. The Thien Am Buddhist community has raised concerns that two of the jailed community members are not allowed to receive essential supplies such as food and medication from their community. I call for the prisoners to be allowed to receive external visits or receive deliveries of supplies in order to meet this need.
I urge Vietnam to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief for all, including members of minority religions or beliefs, and to bring its laws into line with international standards.