Vietnamese founder of banned Buddhist sect dies in prison

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Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Phan Van Thu, who founded an independent Buddhist sect that was later banned by the communist government, died in prison on Sunday. said the wife of another prisoner of conscience in the same prison.

Thu, 74, founder of the An Dan Dai Dao religious group, was serving a life sentence at Gia Trung Detention Center in southern Gia Lai province.

Thu complained on Friday that he felt ill to prisoner of conscience Luu Van Vinh, who told his wife: Nguyen Thi Thap.

Vinh guided Thu returned to his cell and asked prison health workers to check the man’s condition, but they did not, Thap told Radio Free Asia.

“My husband asked the nurses to pay extra attention to him, but they didn’t seem to care,” she said, adding that Thu’s condition became critical later that day and his fellow inmates asked to send him to a hospital for emergency treatment .

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“But it was too late. He died at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Thap said.

It was unclear exactly what caused Thu to die, but in 2019 Thu’s family told RFA they were concerned about his health due to his history of diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular problems. His wife, Vo Thi Thanh Thuy, said the family had sent written requests to prison officials for Thu to go to a hospital for check-ups and treatment, but he was only allowed to do so once.

RFA was unable to reach Gia Trung Detention Center prison officials to verify information about Thu’s death.

Bui Ngoc Dien, Thu’s daughter-in-law, confirmed that Thu had passed away and the family was preparing for his funeral.

Founded in 1969, An Dan Dai Dao operated legally under the Republic of Vietnam but was banned and its members persecuted after the communist government takeover in 1975.

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According to The 88 Project, which advocates for freedom of speech and civil liberties in Vietnam, his followers wanted to create a new utopia in which science, nature and humanity would be harmoniously balanced, and they organized conferences and produced leaflets to spread their beliefs.

At its peak, the Buddhist sect had a network of 14 temples, hundreds of monks and thousands of followers, until the government expropriated its property and forced its followers into hiding.

Under Thu, also known as Tran Cong, An Dan Dai Dao built the Da Bia ecotourism area Phu Yen Province in the South Central Region.

In February 2012, police raided the ecotourism site and arrested Thu and two dozen others on charges of “carrying out activities to overthrow the government” and “illegal possession, use and sale of explosives”.

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Thu was sentenced to life in prison in 2013, while 21 others each received sentences ranging from 10 to 17 years.

Thu was the second member of the Buddhist sect to die in prison. Doan Dinh Nam died at the age of 68 in Xuyen Moc Detention Center in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, where he was serving a 16-year prison sentence.

Vietnam’s communist one-party government restricts independent religious groups from their right to freely practice religion by requiring them to register to do so.

While many religious organizations have a long history in the country, the government makes it difficult for them to practice their religion, and local police often monitor their followers and events.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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