Vietnamese evicted my flock, says Zen master

Exiled nominee for Nobel Peace Prize accuses Communists of paying mobs to brutalise Buddhist followers

A zen master famed for spreading Buddhism in the West, and who was once a confidant of the US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, has accused Vietnam's Communist government of dispatching violent mobs to attack his followers and force them from their monasteries.

Thich Nhat Hanh, who fled into exile in France four decades ago and who has long battled for greater religious rights in his motherland, said his followers in Vietnam were being regularly abused. "Our country does not yet have true religious freedom and the government tightly controls the Buddhist church machinery," Mr Nhat Hanh wrote in a letter to supporters. "The Buddhist church is helpless, unable to protect its own children. This is a truth clearly seen by everyone."

The Buddhist leader spoke out after hundreds of his followers were forced to flee when gangs, including members of the police, assaulted terrified nuns and monks. Following the first attack in September, they took shelter in another monastery, only to be targeted again last month.

The government, which has always sought to maintain a firm grip on religion, denies any involvement in the attacks and dismisses them as a dispute between separate Buddhist groups. But supporters of Mr Nhat Hanh say they have been targeted ever since he made a highly publicised appeal to the government to broaden religious freedom.

After spending 40 years in exile in France, he returned to Vietnam in 2005 for a visit which many believed was a step forward in relaxing controls of religious groups, all of which must be registered with the government. Two years later, the Buddhist leader visited again and appealed for greater tolerance when he met the Vietnamese leader, President Nguyen Minh Triet.

In a letter to followers, obtained by the Associated Press, the 83-year-old master, who teaches at his Plum Village monastery in the Dordogne, asked: "Where did the money come from to pay these mobs? Was it tax money?"

Mr Nhat Hanh, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam war, praised his followers for staying calm and likened their behaviour to the example set by the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. He said they had done so despite some senior monks being "dragged, throttled, choked and thrown into cars as if they were trash cans".

Yesterday Vietnamese officials, who have long pressured Buddhists to join an "official" church and have outlawed "dissident" sects, denied the claims made by the influential religious leader.

"This is a dispute between two Buddhist factions," said Nguyen Ngoc Dong, vice-chairman of the Lam Dong provincial government. "We have tried our best to ensure safety and social order for the people involved. Everything would have gone smoothly if not for the dispute between followers of the Plum Village practice, and the monks and nuns residing permanently at Bat Nha monastery."

Last month, a report by Human Rights Watch confirmed the attacks on the Buddhist leader's supporters and claimed undercover police and Communist party officials were involved. "Vietnam's international donors should insist the government halt the attacks on the monks and nuns in Lam Dong, allow them to practise their religion, and prevent any further violent expulsions," said Elaine Pearson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea