Vietnam Denies Norwegian Group the Right to Visit Monk

Earlier this week, the Bergen-based human rights organization Rafto Foundation announced that Vietnam has denied a visa to chairman Arne Lynngaard, who wanted to deliver the group’s human rights’ prize 2006 to the monk, Venerable Thich Quang Do of the outlawed United Buddhist Church of Vietnam.
     According to the Rafto Foundation, they received a letter from the Vietnamese embassy in Copenhagen saying the visit would not be possible. In addition, the embassy reportedly accused the foundation of harming relations between Norway and Vietnam.
     Subsequently, the Norwegian embassy in Hanoi has asked Vietnam to reconsider their decision to bar the human rights group from visiting the activist Buddhist monk, who is under house arrest. In what could turn into a minor diplomatic crisis, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a reply in which it calls the Norwegian human rights’ award “completely inappropriate”.

In Norway, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bjorn Jahnsen says that Oslo “regretted” the decision and has now asked for a meeting with Vietnamese authorities. Such a meeting will likely take place next week in Hanoi after the ongoing New Year celebrations, he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
     Should Vietnam change its decision, the Rafto Foundation still wants to go to Vietnam to hand over the award to Thich Quang Do, who has been granted the honor “for his personal courage and perseverance through three decades of peaceful opposition against the communist regime in Vietnam,” as the award statement says. The prize – which is worth 50,000 Norwegian Kroner (approx. 7,600 USD) – was symbolically accepted on Thich Quang Do’s behalf by Vo Van Ai, who is the Paris-based president of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.

The Rafto award was created in 1986 in memory of Professor Thorolf Rafto of the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen, who was an outspoken human rights activist. Four previous winners of the Rafto Prize – Aung San Suu Kyi, Josè Ramos-Horta, Kim Dae-jung and Shirin Ebadi – later went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

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