GENEVA, Switzerland -- A leader of a banned Vietnamese Buddhist group pleaded today for an end to religious and political persecution in his country in a rare public message smuggled to the U.N.'s top human rights body.
<< Ven. Thich Quang Do
In a taped recording made secretly at the Saigon monastery where he says he is under house arrest, Thich Quang Do said only freedom and democracy could guarantee ''stability, well-being and development'' for communist Vietnam.
''I am sending you this message to ask for your help to bring our voices to the world,'' he said in a brief address to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
The body's 53 member states are currently holding their annual six-week session in Geneva.
Quang Do, deputy leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, is accused along with the movement's patriarch, Thich Huyen Quang, of possessing state secrets. Both monks are barred from moving far from their residences.
But Hanoi denies that they are under house arrest, or that it represses religion.
The government permits six religious groups to operate, including a Buddhist one intended as a replacement for the Unified Buddhist Church, which was officially disbanded in 1981. All organisations must register with the state, which controls the appointments of leaders and the training of clergy.
''We shall never be free from religious repression until a democratic process is under way,'' said Quang Do, adding that Buddhist followers had taken great risks to get his message out of the country.
Vietnam is on the United States' list of countries that abuse religious freedom, which could potentially lead to economic sanctions.