Monk's human rights prize 'inappropriate'

Sapa-dpa, November 1 2006

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam -- Communist-run Vietnam on Wednesday dismissed an international human rights prize for a leading monk of a banned Buddhist sect as "completely inappropriate," state media reported.

Thich Quang Do, a pro-democracy activist and deputy patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, said this week he would not travel to Norway to receive the Rafto Prize for human rights because he was afraid he would not be allowed to return if he left Vietnam.

Do, 77, was named in September as 2006's winner of the Rafto Prize "for his personal courage and perseverance through three decades of peaceful opposition against the communist regime in Vietnam."

Four previous winners of the Rafto Prize - Aung San Suu Kyi, Josa Ramos-Horta, Kim Dae-jung and Shirin Ebadi - later went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

In a letter to the Rafto Foundation, the monk apologised for missing the award ceremony Saturday, saying he would pick up the prize in person only "when the UBCV's legitimate status has been restored and all its leaders are free."

The state Vietnam News Agency on Wednesday quoted government spokesperson Le Dung as criticising Do personally and the Rafto Foundation for making the award.

The article accused Rafto Foundation of releasing "slanderous and twisted information about democracy, human rights and religious issues in order to justify its move to award the prize to a person who has violated Vietnamese law and provoked disputes and caused divisions among religions."

The UBCV is not recognised by Vietnam's communist government, which insists all religions be governed by the state, a requirement rejected by Do and the sect's ailing patriarch Thich Huyen Quang.

Both monks have been under police supervision since 2003, when they attempted to hold a nationwide congress of the church's monks.