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Young Voices for Freedom Hope Hanoi Will Hear

Youth groups start a drive in Westminster to call attention to repression in communist Vietnam.

October 19, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Angered by the arrest of 11 Buddhist leaders in Vietnam, a group of young Vietnamese Americans organized a demonstration and began a 24-hour hunger strike Saturday in Westminster to draw attention to continued human rights violations and religious persecution by the Hanoi regime.

More than 15 student and youth groups have formed a task force to wage a two-month, nationwide campaign called "Faith Over Force" to heighten public awareness of the human rights situation in Vietnam and to pressure the government there to end its repressive actions.

"We're making everyone aware of what's happening in Vietnam, and that human rights are violated again and again," said Katie Nguyen, 31, a business consultant from Tustin and a member of the Buddhist Youth Assn. in America.

"We are fortunate to be here, and to have freedom here, but we can't ignore what is happening to our people."

Hundreds of people demonstrated peacefully in front of the Asian Village Mall on Bolsa Avenue, where color- ful flags lined the street, and passing motorists waved and honked to show sup- port.

Thousands signed petitions that will be submitted to Congress, calling on legislators to bring pressure on the Communist government of Vietnam.

The local youth groups formed their task force last week, immediately after learning of the Oct. 9 arrests of 11 leading monks of the Unified Buddhist Church in Vietnam as they were leaving a meeting where new church leadership appointments were decided.

Those arrested included the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, 86, and Thich Quang Do, 75, both of whom were detained in their vehicles for 10 hours and threatened with reprisals if they did not divulge the names of the new appointees.

Do, a nominee for the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize, was held for organizing the meeting, while Quang was arrested for being a leader of the Buddhist group.

Both men were sentenced to two years of house arrest without benefit of a public trial.

"We have to support them. It raises their spirits," said Tammy Tran, who wore around her neck a poster with a picture of Quang and the slogan "Freedom or Death." Tran is a field representative for Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).

"Whenever there's an arrest, we have to confront the problem and hope to resolve it," Nguyen said.

"We want the Communists to know that we know what they are doing in Vietnam and we will fight it."

Organizers said the Internet has helped spread their message around the world. They hope to persuade even more lawmakers to pressure Hanoi.

They also are taking their message to younger Vietnamese Americans to keep the freedom movement growing.

Nguyen tutors Vietnamese language, culture and heritage at Hue Quang Temple in Santa Ana on Sundays, and spreads the message to children as young as 7.

"If you ask them how they would feel if someone arrested their parents without any reason," she said, "they understand and they know things like that are happening."

The campaign is scheduled to continue until Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.

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