Local authorities in Kon Tum province in Vietnam’s central highlands have destroyed a pagoda owned by the independent Unified Church of Vietnam.
Police and dozens of local officials from Plei Kan town and Ngoc Hoi district arrived at Son Linh Pagoda in the early hours of Tuesday morning. By 11 a.m. the pagoda was completely demolished. Abbot Thich Nhat Phuoc was visiting another pagoda in Vung Tau province some 600 kilometers to the south at the time.
His mother Ngoc Luong, who lives about ten kilometers away, went to the pagoda when she heard it was being destroyed, but was prevented from entering the area by police.
“Early in the morning I received a call from Nhat Hoa [a monk at the pagoda], so I went down. I asked to be let in but the authorities wouldn’t let me in and others kicked me out,” she told RFA.
“I said I was Mr. Phuoc’s mother and asked her to let me in to get his things out because he had left a few days ago. They still wouldn’t let me in.”
A video provided by Luong shows police officers and plainclothes people blocking her motorcycle, preventing her from entering the area.
She said local government workers carried Buddha statues and worship tablets out of the pagoda and then demolished the wooden building with chainsaws, cranes and excavators. According to Luong, one of them told her that Son Linh is not a pagoda but a temporary house and that her son is not a monk. She said another snatched the camera from her and two others grabbed her hand and forced her to the ground.
In 2009, a monastery was built on the site, and in 2018 a temple was built. The following year, it was demolished by the Ngoc Hoi district government, so the monks replaced it with a makeshift structure made of wood and corrugated iron.
The abbot of Thien Quang Pagoda in Vung Tau province bought the land and asked his disciple Thich Nhat Phuoc to come and take care of it. Phuoc turned it into a place of worship frequented by many local Buddhists. However, local authorities said the building was illegally built on farmland and rejected the abbot’s petition for the temple to be rebuilt. When monks renovated the temple last year so they could live there, the church was fined by local authorities.
On October 27 this year, the Ngoc Hoi District People’s Committee ordered the abbot to demolish the building within 45 days, saying, “Illegal construction of houses on agricultural land…causes difficulties in land management and affects security and social order.” in the area .”
That month, Plei Kan city authorities ordered the abbot to comply with the request by December 12, otherwise they would demolish it and charge him for the cost of demolition.
Phuoc told RFA that many people had built houses on nearby agricultural land but were not forced to demolish them. The abbot said the real reason authorities demolished the pagoda was because he refuses to join the Vietnamese Buddhist Church, a religious organization affiliated with the state-affiliated Vietnam Fatherland Front.
“They find ways to suppress and destroy independent pagodas that don’t follow the Vietnamese Buddhist Church,” he said. “They do not recognize independent Buddhist institutions as temples.”
RFA called the heads of the People’s Committees of Plei Kan City and Ngoc Hoi District, but no one answered the phone. Emails requesting information about the destruction of the pagoda went unanswered.
Authorities have destroyed many other places of worship belonging to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and prevented others from operating. These include the Lien Tri Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City; Phap Bien, Dat Quang and Thien Quang Pagodas in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province; Van Linh Pagoda in Lam Dong Province; and Thong Linh Pagoda in Dak Lak Province.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said December 2 that he is putting Vietnam on a “Special Watch List” because it “commits or tolerates serious violations of religious freedom.”