Published March 25, 2017
Followers of an indigenous Buddhist sect in southern Vietnam were prevented by police from marking their founder's death anniversary, leading some to take up a hunger strike. When police stopped Purified Hoa Hao Buddhist officials from leaving their homes to celebrate the event, they refused to eat in protest. "All officials went on hunger strike to demand they be allowed to celebrate the 70th anniversary of our founder's absence," said Nguyen Ngoc Tan, head of communications for the Buddhist group. He said "absence" because their founder, Huynh Phu So disappeared while meeting communist leaders in 1947 in Dong Thap province. All his bodyguards were killed during the incident. To this day Hoa Hao Buddhists call the event "the founder's absence" instead of his death, hoping that he returns one day. This year, the anniversary fell on March 22. In the days leading up to the event police erected four stations around Quang Minh Temple, a Hoa Hao shrine. "They videoed and watched people who visited the temple," said Minh Ky, a cleric in An Giang province. "Only 40 people who managed to enter our temple before March 22 have been able to celebrate the event there," he said. Some of the Hoa Hao Buddhists who managed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of their founder's 'absence' in Quang Minh Temple. (Photo supplied)
Tan and other leaders had planned to hold celebrations at their headquarters in An Giang province but they were prevented from leaving their homes. "Authorities have severely violated our religious freedom. We do not violate the laws so why are we treated like this?" he said. Tan said he and other followers had raised banners marking the anniversary in their homes but the authorities pulled them down and even trampled on them. They also threw a mixture of rotten eggs, motor oil and paint at Tan's house. Le Van Soc, deputy of the Hoa Hao group, said authorities accused him of "illegally raising banners and campaigning for the founder's death anniversary without government approval."
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Nguyen Van Dien, head of Purified Hoa Hao Buddhism, condemned the authorities for violating people's rights to travel and freedom of religion in a March 21 statement. He called on the international community to "put pressure on the Vietnamese government to respect and implement human rights." Followers of the Hoa Hao sect have been prevented from marking their founder's death anniversary for decades. They are one of the most persecuted faiths in Vietnam. There are an estimated 2 million Hoa Hao Buddhists in Vietnam; most of them live in the Mekong Delta provinces.