A Letter to Human Rights Organizations from the Wife of a Man Sentenced to Life in Prison

phan van thu

Vo Thi Thanh Thuy
Defen The Defenders | Oct  27, 2014

[themify_box style=”blue rounded” ]My name is Võ Thị Thanh Thúy. I was born in 1967. I am now residing at 646 Trần Phú Street, An Nhơn Village, An Nhơn District, Bình Định Province, Vietnam.[/themify_box]

The letter you are about to read comes to you straight from my heart. In this letter, I will tell you the truth and nothing but the still hidden truth about the trial of an organization named Hội Đồng Công Luật Công Án Bia Sơn. This long-winded name means approximately Council for The Public Discussion of a Koan Related to the Bia Mountain. For simplicity, I will just call it the Bia Mountain Buddhist Congregation.

I am a woman married to the man who led this Congregation. He was sentenced to life in prison for doing nothing but preach the Right Way to help people achieve a life blessed with truth, goodness, and beauty.

The Bia Mountain is located in Hảo Sơn Hamlet, Xuân Nam Village, Đông Hòa District, Phú Yên Province, Central Vietnam. Nestled under the tree canopy of this mountain are the buildings and offices of a private, limited liability company named Quỳnh Long. This company was established years ago to service a 50-year contract to plant trees in the Bia Mountain area. The Đèo Cả Pass Special Use Area Management Authority was the agency that awarded the contract. A few years ago, realizing that the scenery around the offices of Quỳnh Long is naturally very beautiful and pristine, the management of Quỳnh Long LLC submitted to the authorities in Phú Yên Province an application to operate an eco-tourism complex. The proposed name for the complex was the Bia Mountain Eco-Tourism Area. The permit was granted, and that was the beginning of the end for Quỳnh Long and everyone associated with it.

Mr. Vương Tấn Sơn was the person who got the contract to protect, grow, regenerate, and plant trees from the Đèo Cả Pass Special Use Area Management Authority. He was also the one who later established and registered Quỳnh Long as a limited liability corporation. As he didn’t want his investment project to fail and damage the forests, Mr. Sơn went to Bình Định Province to invite his former teacher, Mr. Phan Văn Thu (aka Trần Công) to become the manager of the firm. From then on, everyone willingly participated and worked under the direction of Mr. Thu.

I would like to say something about Mr. Thu now. He is the founder of the An Đàn Đại Đạo Sect (Peaceful Altar to the Great Way) in 1969. After liberation day in 1975, his pagoda was confiscated and his followers – monks and nuns – were scattered. A long time afterward, his followers learned that he has found work at the Bia Mountain eco-tourism area and so one after another they made their way to the area to rejoin him. To address his followers desire to hear and learn Buddhism from him, he started preaching from the canonical texts of Buddhism. His followers collected the sermons he gave into a book called Cửu Kinh Minh Triết, or The Nine Sutras On Clear Understanding. They worked by day, and learned about the Way from his sermons by night. During one of these night sessions, a student asked him about the Prophesies of the sage Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm and so he obliged. He explained the revelations hidden in the text of these Prophesies. He also commented on events that happened and that the sage predicted in his book.

(The state later used his explanations and comments as proof that he was a reactionary bent on overthrowing the government). From these early days, the number of Buddhists who found their way to the eco-tourism area to join him increased.  Old religious bonds forged years ago were reconnected, and before anyone realized it, the Bia Mountain Buddhist Congregation was revived. But even as the Congregation revived, Mr. Thu and his disciple didn’t register or submit to the government a request to practice their religion. On May 2, 1012, Phú Yên Province’s Public Security raided the eco-tourism area, hunted down and arrested its employees, and shut down the company. On April 2, 2013, The Phú Yên Province Court put 22 people on trial. They all faced the same charge: attempting to overthrow the people’s government in violation of Article 79 of the Criminal Code. The Court sentenced my husband to life in prison. Others got sentences ranging from 10 to 17 years in prison. The Court also ordered the confiscation of all assets of the company. The truth is none of the condemned did anything wrong. The only thing they didn’t do was to apply for a permission to practice their religion.

At the Court of First Instance, the prosecution was unable to produce any concrete evidence. Instead, it used baseless statements and manufactured evidence to prove its case. My husband described in court how that was done. During interrogation, the investigator picked two of the songs my husband composed. He then forced him to pick one of these two songs as the national anthem. From the ground of the eco-tourism area, investigators found a rock on which a turtle was painted. They forcibly declared that it was our national symbol. They also selected a Buddhist flag – the one depicting infinite mercy and forgiveness – and forcibly declared that it was our national flag. Never mind that we never had any flag. A manager of the company once picked up a stone in the eco-tourism area after a landslide. He did so because the stone had markings that looked like some Chinese character. The investigators declared that the rock was our national seal. These unilateral declarations from the investigators were all they had to charge my husband and his followers for the crime of plotting to overthrow the government. In court, all 22 defendants denied that they adopted a national symbol, a national flag and a national seal to prepare to establish a new government. Yet, the government kept the above details in the concluding sections of the final investigative report. Not content to stop there, on July 17, 2014, Public Security in Phú Yên province arrested three more people who worked in the Quarry department of the company. Altogether, Public Security has arrested a total of 25 people in the Da Bia eco-tourism area, all of them members of Bia Mountain Buddhist Congregation. Oh how ironic and bitter it was!

I hope that newspapers and all other mass media organizations will help the true story of case as highlighted in this letter. When they do so, they will help make concerned people and organizations dedicated to defending human rights more aware of our situation. I hope that once they know about our plight, they will act accordingly. They can speak truth to power. They can force the Government of Vietnam to free my husband and his disciples. As they do so, they will be protecting and upholding social justice. For justice, and also all the freedoms that are the birthrights their Creator had endowed them with, are what my husband and his disciples don’t have but do need the most now.

My heart aches so much that I can hardly speak anymore. All I could do now is to write this letter to express what I feel deep down in my heart. Please understand our pains. Please be with us in our time of need. Please be with us as we suffer under a crushing injustice. And above all, as a woman and a wife, I want to do is everything I can to save my husband from jail.

Available now in the news media is information posted by his disciples about my husband’s life, the full text of his Nine Sutras On Clear Understanding, as well as my declarations to internet news outlets. Please check out the information his disciples and I provided. It is correct and true. We want one and only one thing: that the Government of Vietnam releases my husband Mr. Phan Văn Thu and all his disciples.

We once drafted an appeal letter for submittal to the central government and local authorities at various levels. However, when we contacted people sympathetic to us and asked them to sign the appeal letter, Public Security in Phú Yên Province reacted harshly. They changed the existing suspended sentences given to members of the Quarry team to firm prison terms. These terms ranged from 3 to 4 years in jail. The charges associated with these new prison terms were illegal storing, using and trading of explosive materials. Considering what Public Security did, we backed off from drafting and submitting any appeal letter. Such a letter would be utterly useless.

After this letter, I will release the complete text of the appeal letter we wanted to send to the authorities in Vietnam.

I earnestly hope that international human rights organizations will help us.

Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.

Mrs. Võ Thị Thanh Thúy

/signed/

Bình Định, October 20, 2014

List of the 25 People Sentenced to Prison in the Trial of the Bia Mountain Buddhist Congregation

 

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Name Date of Birth Domicile Sentenced to (years) Basis of Sentence
1 Phan Văn Thu (Alias: Trần Công) June 25, 1948 Tổ 10, Liêm Trực,  Bình Định District, An Nhơn City, Bình Định Province Life Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
2 Võ Thành Lê June 6, 1955 Phước Lộc Hamlet, Hòa Thành Village, Đông Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 16 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
3 Lê Duy Lộc October 2, 1956 Khánh Sơn 1 City Block, Khánh Hải  Ninh Hải Township, Ninh Thuận Province 17 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
4 Vương Tấn Sơn December 26, 1953 Thạnh Lâm Hamlet, Hòa Quang Bắc Village, Phú Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 17 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
5 Từ Thiện Lương December 13, 1950 Number 51, Trưng Nhị Street, Đức Nghĩa District, Phan Thiết City, Bình Thuận Province 16 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
6 Lê Phúc August6 2, 1951 21/32A, Thống Nhất Street, Đài Sơn District, Phan Rang-Tháp Chàm City, Ninh Thuận Province 15 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
7 Nguyễn Kỳ Lạc January 1, 1951  Triều Sơn Đông City Block,  Xuân Đài Hamlet, Sông Cầu city, Phú Yên Province 16 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
8 Đoàn Đình Nam September 10, 1951 137 Trần Hưng Đạo, City Block 3, Tuy Hòa City, Phú Yên Province 16 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
9 Võ Ngọc Cư September 10, 1951  Mỹ Thạnh Đông Hamlet, Hòa Phong Village, Tây Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 16 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
10 Phan Thanh Ý February 10, 1948 Mỹ Thạnh Trung Hamlet, Hòa Phong Village, Tây Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 14 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government
11 Tạ Khu 1947 Bình Thắng Hamlet, Sơn Thành Tây Village, Tây Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 16 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
12 Lê Đức Động August 20, 1983 Kế Sung Hamlet, Kế Vang Village, Phú Vang District, Thừa Thiên Huế Province 12 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
13 Lê Trọng Cư October 20, 1966 Quy Hậu Hamlet, Hòa Trị, Village, Phú Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 12 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
14 Đoàn Văn Cư May 8, 1961 Đại Bình Hamlet, Hòa Quang Nam Village, Phú Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 14 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
15 Trần Phi Dũng November 14, 1966 Phú Nhiêu Hamlet, Hòa Mỹ Đông Village,Tây Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 13 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
16 Trần Quân March 1, 1984 Lâm Tuyền Hamlet, Dran City,Đơn Dương District, Lâm Đồng Province 12 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
17 Phan Thanh Tường March 16, 1987 Mỹ Thạnh Trung Hamlet, Hòa Phong Village,Tây Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 10 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
18 Võ Tiết

 

September 10, 1952 City Block # 5, Ngô Gia Tự Street, Phú Đông District, Tuy Hòa city, Phú Yên Province 16 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
19 Nguyễn Dinh 1968 Ân Niên Hamlet, Hòa An Village, Phú Hòa District, tỉnh phú Yên Province 14 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
20 Đỗ Thị Hồng March 7, 1957 Bình Thắng Hamlet, Sơn Thành Đông Village, Tây Hòa District, tỉnh Phú Yên Province 13 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
21 Nguyễn Thái Bình July 8, 1986 Thôn Tân Sơn 2 Hamlet Thành Hải Village,  Phan Rang- Tháp Chàm City, Ninh Thuận, Province 12 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
22 Lương Nhật Quang January 20, 1987 Lương Phước Hamlet, Hòa Phú Village, Tây Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 12 Activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s government.
23 Nguyễn Văn Hữu 1957 Cà Đú Zone, Khánh Hải Township, Ninh Hải District, Ninh Thuận Province 4 Illegal storing, using, trading, explosive materials

 

24 Huỳnh Đức Minh 1958 Hảo Sơn Hamlet, Hòa Xuân Nam Village, huyện Đông Hòa District, Phú Yên Province 3 Illegal storing, using, trading, explosive materials

 

25 Võ Văn Phụng 1950 Xuân Thạnh 1, Hòa Tân Tây, Tây Hòa District,  Phú Yên Province 3 Illegal storing, using, trading, explosive materials