After a two-day trial, a Vietnamese court in Duc Hoa District, Long An Province, on July 21 sentenced six people from Tinh That Bong Lai Temple, an independent Buddhist temple, to a combined total of 23 and a half years in prison on the conviction of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
The trial was previously postponed until July 20 at the attorneys’ request due to the lack of preparation time. In a rare move, the authorities live streamed the trial on social media while allowing local Youtubers to report the trial outside the courtroom.
Le Tung Van, the head monk at Tinh That Bong Lai Temple, received five years in jail, and Cao Thi Cuc, the temple’s landowner, received three years in jail. Other monks at the temple, including Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen, Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, and Le Thanh Trung Duong, each received four years in jail. Meanwhile, Le Thanh Nhi Nguyen, another monk, received three and a half years in jail.
The judicial panel declared that the convictions of the monks and their landowner were “in accordance with the law.”
According to the indictment via State media, in the period between 2019 and 2021, Le Tung Van had instructed Hoan Nguyen and Nhat Nguyen to make and upload several videos on the temple’s Youtube channel, which allegedly “published false information” and “defamed the dignity” of Duc Hoa District police, the monk from the Vietnamese government-controlled Buddhist Sangha Thich Nhat Tu, and the Long An provincial Buddhist Sangha.
The evidence used to prosecute Tinh That Bong Lai’s practitioners include a live stream on their Youtube channel in which a monk from the temple argued with local police and accused them of “abducting” Diem My, who previously left her home and became a nun at the temple, at her parents’ request.
The prosecutors also alleged that the head monk, Le Tung Van, had “defamed” Thich Nhat Tu with profane language.
The evidence was a video published on social media in which Hoan Nguyen claimed that his master, Le Tung Van, had said that Nhat Tu was “as dumb as an ox” after the State-affiliated monk declared that the Tinh That Bong Lai practitioners were “fake” because the Buddhist temple is not registered with the official Buddhist Sangha.
When asked why the monastery had not registered with the local Buddhist Sangha, which remains under the Vietnamese government’s total control, Le Tung Van said that the Sangha “is not worthy” for him to be a member of. “If [the Sangha] is worthy, I will bow down and listen to its teachings. But if it’s not, even when you’re forcing or ordering me, I will not listen,” Tung Van said.
Meanwhile, the three convicted monks, Trung Duong, Nhat Nguyen, and Nhi Nguyen, claimed that the police had either threatened or tortured them while in custody in order to extract their forced confessions. A representative from the Long An provincial Investigation Agency denied their allegations, saying that the police “did not beat up or torture the defendants.”
On July 20, attorney Dao Kim Lan, one of Tinh That Bong Lai’s defense lawyers, and a female reporter, were assaulted in front of the courthouse after the conclusion of the trial’s first day. The attacker was said to be an assistant of Tran Quoc Du, the defense lawyer of the monk Thich Nhat Tu. It was reported that there was no prior rivalry between attorney Kim Lan and the attacker.
On the trial’s second day, July 21, Tinh That Bong Lai’s lawyers requested the court halt the trial. Attorney Kim Lan had been admitted to a local hospital for a medical checkup following the assault, and Le Tung Van said he couldn’t attend the trial due to his poor health. The court refused the lawyers’ request and proceeded with the hearing on the same day.