Vietnamese Buddhism Loses a Champion: The Most Venerable Thich Tue Sy Passes at 81

Vietnamese Buddhism Loses a Champion: The Most Venerable Thich Tue Sy Passes at 81

Most Venerable Thich Tue Sy, a Prominent Buddhist Monk, Passes Away at 81

The Most Venerable Thich Tue Sy, popularly known as Tue Sy, one of Vietnam’s most famous Buddhist monks, passed away at 4:00 p.m., Nov. 24, 2023, at Phat An Pagoda, Dong Nai Province. He was 81.

Born in Pakse, Laos, on April 5, 1945, Most Venerable Thich Tue Sy is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writer, translator, and Buddhist researcher. Thich Tue Sy is also a prominent figure who advocates for religious freedom in Vietnam. 

As a result of his peaceful resistance against the Hanoi regime’s repression of religious freedom, Thich Tue Sy was first arrested in 1978 on charges of “illegal residence” and was sentenced to three years in prison. In 1984, Vietnam’s Communist government arrested him again, along with 20 other Buddhist monks and nuns in the south, on “subversion” allegations. The government sentenced Tue Sy to death in a 1988 trial, but they later reduced his sentence to 20 years of imprisonment due to international pressure. He was released in 1998.

In September 2022, Thich Tue Sy became the temporary head of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (Giáo hội Phật giáo Việt Nam Thống nhất) following the death of the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, the supreme patriarch of the organization. The organization, which was established in South Vietnam before the Communist victory in 1975, operates independently of the government-controlled Vietnam Buddhist Church (Giáo hội Phật giáo Việt Nam).

Most Venerable Tue Sy also advocated separating religion, especially Buddhism, from state politics. He firmly opposed the integration of the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha into the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, a political organization, asserting that Buddhism should remain apolitical and independent of any political affiliations.

Anti-Graft Campaign in Vietnam Sets Sights on Van Thinh Phat Group Amid Banking, Property Probes

The Vietnamese authorities have accused Truong My Lan, chairwoman of property developer Van Thinh Phat, of bribery, violating bank regulations, and embezzlement of a staggering 304 trillion dong ($12.52 billion) from customers of its affiliate Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB). 

The probes into the alleged embezzlement schemes at Van Thinh Phat revealed that Lan, SCB’s largest shareholder and her associates had used the bank to raise money from its customers. They then created around 1,000 “shell companies” to create false bank loans. The authorities alleged that Lan had directed SCB’s leaders to coordinate with key officials at Van Thinh Phat to withdraw the bank’s money using false loan applications.

Van Thinh Phat is one of the latest targets in Vietnam’s anti-graft campaign against the mismanagement of its banking system and property development activities. Multiple state bank executives and government officials, including five State Bank of Vietnam officials, have been arrested for alleged involvement in Truong My Lan's embezzlement case.

The Ministry of Public Security had recommended prosecuting another 86 individuals believed to be associated with Van Thinh Phat’s alleged crime of property appropriation. The police said they are also searching for two former SCB chairpersons, one Chinese and one Canadian national, and five of their subordinates.

State media reported on Nov. 21 that MPS had confiscated around $40 million in U.S. dollars in cash, frozen 2 trillion dollars, and seized about 1,200 property units purportedly owned by Truong My Lan. The state police also confiscated 590 billion dong and $15 million in U.S. dollars possessed by Lan and her accomplices at SCB.

On Nov. 22, the investigation authorities announced that they had expanded the investigation into the case, bringing the total number of defendants to 108 people, including 23 directors of different governmental departments and bureaus. Nguyen Van Yen, deputy head of the Central Internal Affairs Commission, said the bribes paid in the Van Thinh Phat case were “the largest” among the investigated corruption cases ever. 

The Vietnamese Communist Party’s (VCP) anti-corruption campaign also chilled the economy, as the police revealed recent financial scandals in the real estate sector worth a combined $12.8 billion, or 3.2% of Vietnam’s gross domestic product, Reuters reported

VCP General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, the primary orchestrator of the graft-busting drive, claimed during a meeting of the Central Steering Committee on Preventing Corruption and Negativity on Nov. 22 that the Party “needs to conduct the anti-corruption fight faster in a more efficient manner.” Trong, a Marxist-Lenninist idealogue, added that the Party also “needed to build a [political] theory on Vietnam’s fight against corruption and negativity.”

On Nov. 22, the police also accused Do Anh Dung, ex-chairman of the Tan Hoang Minh Group, another property developer, of illegally issuing bonds worth 10.3 billion dong to 6,600 investors. The Supreme People's Procuracy has subsequently filed official prosecutions against the Tan Hoang Minh Group chairman and his accomplices on the charges of “committing fraud” and “appropriating assets.”

In a separate case, on Nov. 24, the Police Investigation Agency of MPS issued a recommendation for the prosecution of Tran Qui Thanh, chairman of beverage maker Tan Hiep Phat, and his two daughters, Tran Uyen Phuong and Tran Ngoc Bich, on the allegation of “abusing trust to appropriate assets.” 

According to the police investigations via state media, Thanh and his daughters were accused of coercing many businesses and individuals who borrowed from him to use their shares in several real estate projects as collateral. The value of these shares, as determined by Thanh, was reportedly lower than the market price. The Tan Hiep Phat chairman then allegedly instructed his two daughters to transfer these real estate shares under his legal name so that he could have control over the assets. The police alleged that Thanh and his daughters had appropriated 767 billion dong from the borrowers.

Freedom of religion in Vietnam: What happened last week?

Ba Ria – Vung Tau Police Summon Man Distributing Falun Gong Leaflets

The Ba Ria - Vung Tau Provincial Police Department on Nov. 21 summoned a man for propagating and distributing leaflets about Falun Gong, a religious movement heavily suppressed in China and Vietnam.

The People’s Police webpage, a mouthpiece of the Ministry of Public Security, reported on Nov. 22 that a man named D.T.N., 53, was summoned for spreading Falun Gong leaflets to passers-by on Hung Vuong Street, Phu My Village, Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province on the morning of Nov. 21. The Phu My Village Police Department then reportedly directed its security team and local police officers to confiscate these allegedly “illegal propaganda materials.”

Also, according to the MPS mouthpiece, the man admitted his wrongdoing as the local police confiscated all the Falun Gong materials at his home. It added that Phu My Village Police had been collecting and verifying the evidence to penalize the Falun Gong distributor under the law. 

The Vietnamese authorities have repeatedly smeared Falun Gong on social and state media, claiming that its practices and teachings are “superstitious.” They also warned citizens not to participate in the activities of this group, saying that they contained anti-scientific and anti-cultural rhetoric.

Dak Lak Authorities Intensify Repression against Central Highlands Christian Sect

Authorities in Dak Lak Province have intensified their persecution of members of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, a religious sect popular among ethnic minorities in the area. The government reportedly forced members of this Christian sect to cease their prayer meetings or even leave the group, Pastor Aga, one of the church's founders, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) in an interview. 

Pastor Aga, who currently lives in the United States, said that the harassment of church followers had worsened since armed groups opened fire on two police headquarters in the province last June, resulting in nine deaths.

On No. 15, police and provincial officials attempted to disrupt and record what they deemed “illegal religious activities” when dozens of believers gathered at a house in Buon Don District, Dak Lak Province. Two days later, the district police summoned many attendees for interrogation and coerced them into signing a pledge not to gather again. However, the religious attendees refused to sign the document.

The police also threatened H Ik Kbuor, the host of the gathering, with a fine or imprisonment if she continued to use her private home for religious meetings. On Nov. 19, police and local officials arrived again during a prayer meeting and forced the attendees to disperse. They threatened them with fines or imprisonment if they continued to gather, similar to the treatment of religious missionaries Y Krec Bya and Nay Y Blang, who were jailed on charges of “sabotaging national unity” and “abusing democratic freedoms.”

Pastor Aga explained that the Christian sect has 20 group meetings in the Central and Central Highlands. However, the authorities only harass those meetings which attract many attendees. RFA reporters called the leaders of the Religious Affairs Committee of the Department of Home Affairs of Dak Lak Province and the Buon Don District Police Department to verify the information, but no one answered.

Three Imprisoned Vietnamese Activists Given Human Rights Awards

The U.S.-based Vietnam Human Rights Network awarded three imprisoned activists in Vietnam, Tran Bang, Y Wo Nie, and Le Trong Hung, for their contributions to human rights causes in the country.

Bang, 62, a former member of the Le Hieu Dang Club, which consisted of intellectuals who were former Communist Party members, was arrested in March 2022 and sentenced to eight years in prison for “distributing anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. The members of Le Hieu Dang had frequently spoken up and criticized the Communist regime’s authoritarian rule over Vietnam. It was reported that Bang’s health had declined significantly in prison.

Nie, a Christian from the Rhade ethnic minority, has twice been imprisoned for speaking out against the religious persecution of ethnic minorities in Vietnam. He is currently serving a four-year sentence for “abusing democratic freedoms,” a violation of Article 331.

Hung, a freelance journalist and an independent National Assembly candidate, was arrested in 2021 for his involvement in a social media program highlighting the plight of people suffering from injustice. During a trial in 2021, he was sentenced to five years in prison and another five years of probation under Article 117 for “distributing anti-state propaganda.”. 

Rights groups have condemned the imprisonment of these activists, highlighting that Article 331 and Article 117 are vaguely written laws that allow the government to silence dissent. The Vietnam Human Rights Network’s recently released report found no significant improvements in Vietnam’s human rights record this year. From January 2022 to October 2023, 123 people were prosecuted, and 98 were imprisoned for political and religious reasons.

Vietnam President Vo Van Thuong to Visit Japan

Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong is set to visit Japan this week between Nov. 27 and Nov. 30, marking his first official trip to the country since taking office, Reuters reported, citing an announcement from the spokesperson of the foreign affairs ministry. Thuong’s visit coincides with the 50th anniversary of establishing ties between Vietnam and Japan, as both countries seek to strengthen their relations.

The closer ties between Vietnam and Japan are partly driven by Vietnam's increasing strategic role in global supply chains, particularly amid trade tensions between China and the West. Vietnam classifies Japan as a strategic partner, ranking below its designated comprehensive strategic partners such as China, Russia, South Korea, India, and the United States. Meanwhile, Japan is Vietnam’s third-largest source of foreign investment and its fourth-largest trading partner.

The visit by President Thuong follows Vietnam's recent upgrade of relations with the United States in September. It may also be followed by a visit from China's President Xi Jinping, who could travel to Vietnam in December to strengthen bilateral ties further. Talks about a possible diplomatic upgrade between Vietnam and Japan have been underway for months, with officials discussing potential cooperation agreements.

Vietnamese-American Radio Host and Writer Nguyen Qui Duc Dies

Nguyen Qui Duc, a Vietnamese-American award-winning journalist and poet, passed away in Hanoi on Nov. 22 following a battle with cancer. Benjamin Reich, who organized a GoFundMe campaign for Duc’s medical expenses three weeks ago, confirmed the death to AsAmNews. Reich told AsAmNews in an email interview that Duc passed away from a blood infection he developed recently.

Duc was born in Da Lat, Vietnam, in 1958 and emigrated to the United States in 1975. He returned to Hanoi in 2006, entering the restaurant industry. As a journalist and poet, Duc’s work was widely recognized and received numerous awards for his reporting and writing. His reports were published in the New York Times Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, The Asian Wall Street Journal, and other publications.

Duc was also a passionate advocate for immigrants and refugees, and he gained his passion for storytelling through his daily interactions with immigrants, including Asians, Jews, and Italians. In addition to his reporting and writing, Nguyen hosted a radio program, Pacific Time, on KQED-FM in San Francisco between 2000 and 2006. The program, at its peak, aired on 40 NPR stations nationwide.

“Vietnam is home, and it’s part of the most exciting continent,” Duc told the San Francisco Chronicle before his return in 2006. “I had a lot of opportunities in this country, which has given us a lot. But here, I’m on the computer 24 hours a day. Over there, I feel warmer in Vietnam. I have time for friends.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Turning the Tide: Vietnam’s War Against Plastic Waste

Fulcrum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ Nov. 23

“The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has sought to deal with plastic waste as a “prioritised mission”, specified in Vietnam’s highest level policy documents, such as the Central Committee’s Resolution 36 on maritime economy and the Prime Minister’s Direction No 33 on tackling plastic waste. Former Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc also started a national campaign against plastic waste, the narrative often reserved for the most important political missions.

Addressing plastic waste in Vietnam involves navigating complex challenges across three primary sources: industrial production, household consumption, and imported plastic scrap. Each demands tailored policy solutions and presents different challenges.”

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to The Vietnamese Magazine.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.