Human rights groups condemn arrest of Vietnamese monk with U.N.

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Two human rights groups on Wednesday called for the release of a Vietnamese monk who had been granted refugee status in Cambodia, but was allegedly arrested by Vietnamese secret police there and forcibly returned home last year.

Thich Tri Luc, 49, of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, disappeared from a guesthouse in Phnom Penh in July 2002. His family did not know his whereabouts until last month when they received word that he would be tried in a Ho Chi Minh City court.

“Apparent abduction from Cambodia by Vietnamese authorities and incommunicado detention of a Buddhist monk who has been recognized as a refugee is a new low for Vietnam’s so-called justice system,” Ingrid Massage, director of London-based Amnesty International’s Asia and Pacific Program, said in a statement.

“What happened to Thich Tri Luc shows Vietnam’s flagrant contempt for the United Nations and international standards of justice. He should be immediately released,” she said.

Human Rights Watch added that Cambodia should also explain how Vietnamese secret police allegedly managed to kidnap and repatriate Luc when he had been granted refugee status by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cambodia in June 2002 on the grounds that he had fled religious persecution in Vietnam.

Returning a refugee violates the Refugee Convention to which Cambodia is a party, said Brad Adams, executive director of the New York-based group’s Asia division.

Vietnamese officials did not immediately respond to the criticism on Wednesday but confirmed last week that Luc will face trial for conducting “anti-government activities, seeking to flee abroad to contact outside organizations in an attempt to undermine the Vietnamese government.”

The Foreign Ministry said Vietnamese police arrested Luc on July 26, 2002, at a border gate in Tay Ninh province while he was trying to flee the country. But in a letter to Human Rights Watch in June 2002, Luc said he escaped “Vietnam’s harsh yoke” on April 19, 2002, the statement said.

The human rights groups called on the Vietnamese government to give Luc access to a lawyer, his family and United Nations representatives.

Luc, who has spent much of the past decade in jail or under house arrest, could face life in prison if found guilty. He is being held in a pretrial detention center in Ho Chi Minh City, the statement said.

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