Catholic priest still being jailed
Emily Nguyen8/31/2009

Despite international pressures, Vietnamese government refuses to release a dissident Catholic priest who is in deteriorating health.

“Nguyen Van Ly this time is not granted amnesty because... amnesty is only granted to persons who make progress in their rehabilitation," said Le The Tiem, Vice Minister of Public Security, in a news conference held on Monday Aug. 31.

Tiem explained further that Fr. Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly of Hue Archdiocese had received amnesty once "but then he committed new violations."

On July 1, a bipartisan group of 37 US senators sent a letter to Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet calling for the "immediate and unconditional release" of Fr. Thaddeus Nguyen who had been sent to jail for eight years during a half-day trial in 2007 in the city of Hue for spreading propaganda against the communist state.

The U.S. senators said Ly's trial appeared "seriously flawed," stressing that the pro-democracy activist was denied access to counsel and prevented from presenting a defense.

"Given these serious flaws in relation to his arrest, trial and imprisonment, we request that you facilitate Father Ly's immediate and unconditional release from prison, and allow him to return to his home and work without restrictions on his right to freedom of expression, association and movement," the letter said.

"Father Ly's arrest, trial and ongoing detention in this instance call into question Vietnam's commitment to these fundamental principles," they wrote.

The 63-year-old priest has been jailed three times since the 1970s for a total of 14 years, and his 2007 trial drew condemnation from diplomats, Vietnam watchers and human rights groups for the one-party state that has gone to great lengths over the past year to boost its international prestige.

On the occasion of the Independence Day, Triet signed the decision granting amnesty to 5,459 prisoners but not Fr. Thaddeus Nguyen.

Nguyen Thi Hieu, a sister of Fr. Thaddeus Nguyen, who visited him last Wednesday, reported "The state of my brother's health has deteriorated since mid-July, after a fall in his cell in May.”

"His arm and his right foot are lightly paralyzed. He was walking with difficulty and needs people at his side to help him move around the room," she said, adding prison officials had given him medication.

However, Tiem said Fr. Thaddeus Nguyen “is in good health."

The decision to keep jailing Fr. Thaddeus Nguyen happened just a few days after the Vietnamese Ambassador in Italy met with the Vatican Deputy Secretary for foreign relations, Monsignor Ettore Balestero, to discuss relations between Vietnam and the Vatican and recent issues regarding the Catholic Church in Vietnam.

State media outlets reported: “Dang Khanh Thoai on August 22 reaffirmed Vietnam’s consistent policy of respecting and protecting the people’s right to religious freedom and informed the Vatican representative of the improved and more diversified religious life of Catholic followers in Vietnam, thanks to the efforts of authorities at all levels.”

The on-going detention of Fr. Thaddeus Nguyen and recent incidents at Tam Toa, Thai Ha, Hanoi, Hue, Vinh Long, An Giang and other provinces in the Central Highland of Vietnam have proved the opposite way: the Church in Vietnam has been persecuted more brutally than ever.

State media in Vietnam recently have used words of Pope and Vatican officials to insult Vietnamese bishops, priests and faithful.

“In the speech, he [Pope Benedict XVI] called on Vietnamese Catholics to contribute to the cause of national development, regarding this as ‘an important obligation and contribution at this point in time when Vietnam is developing its relations with the international community.’”, VOV News – a state media outlet – reported on Aug. 27.

“The Pope also reminded the Roman Catholic Church in Vietnam to hold on to the principle of ‘living the gospel amidst the nation’, urging that ‘a good Catholic follower must also be a good citizen’ and reaffirming that ‘the church has no intention of finding a way to replace the authorities,’” the outlet added.

After the communist takeover of the North in 1954, and of the South in 1975, 2250 Catholic universities, schools, hospitals, orphanages,and Health Care centers have been seized. Most of them have been demolished to build hotels, and tourist resorts or to award communist officials.

The Church has repeatedly asked for rights to participate in education, health care and other social services but so far she has been banned to do so except the permission to run a couple of leprosy and AIDS centers.

This is a clear attempt to stigmatize the demonstrations of Catholics in recent months, the commitment of priest to justice and human rights, the involvement of lay people who strive to defend the rights of religious freedom.

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