During its visit to Melbourne of from 12-17 December, VietCatholic met with several Victorian State Members to inform and discuss with them on latest persecutions against the Church in Vietnam. Below is an interview with Luke Donnellan MP State Member, Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier by Chau Xuan Hung.

Good afternoon Luke. You have known Father Ly in Vietnam. He’s prisoner of conscience for quite a long time now. I believe that in March 2006, you payed a visit to Father Ly. How was he, physically and mentally?

Father Ly’s health at the time was very good. He’s very strong, very powerful, very determined to continue on his fight for democratic principle to religious freedom in Vietnam. I was very impressed with just the aurora of incredible strength around Father Ly. The fact that I suspect when I was visiting him in the archdiocese in way that he was being followed the whole time. But, he didn’t seem to have concerns about that. But generally he and Father Peter were both very determined that they would keep going with their work and they would not stop. So, I found him in very good spirits.

Could you please tell us, how his case came to your attention. Before you actually visited him in Vietnam?

Through the local community, to local websites here, the Catholic website, both the local community which is very strong here as you’d imagine in terms of their respect for Father Ly and so forth. Father Ly’s continued campaigning for democracy was very inspiring, very much a part of in a sense he’s leading his own form of liberation theology found in Vietnam. He’s going a marvellous job.

Now to the bad news, recently, last month, in November, he suffered a stroke, quite a bad one that caused paralysis on one side of his body. Since then he has been receiving medical treatment in the prison hospital, which is administered by the Lead of Public Security in Hanoi. Now the choice in Vietnam, and his family requested for the government to release him, so that his family can take care of him at home. However, on December 11th, just a few days ago, the authorities in Vietnam returned him to prison. So what is your view?

Well unfortunately, communism is not a particularly dignified form of government and it doesn’t treat anybody with dignity, full stop. Which is pretty much what you’d expect from communist officials in Vietnam to continue to treat Father Ly because he is a threat to the ongoing dictatorship in their own country? So I guess, I don’t really expect the communist regime there to have any sympathy for Father Ly’s plight. I don’t expect them to release him at all. I expect them to keep him locked up. Like the last show trial, where they were severely embarrassed because there were cameras there, which caught them, covering up Father Ly’s face. Father Ly is far too much of a threat to the Vietnamese government there for him to be released. He has too much of a strong following in the Vietnamese Catholic Community along with many of the Buddhist leaders standing way be too much of a threat to the government, unfortunately. I think the fact that the strength of Father Ly and his determination has effectively ensured that he would never have been released if he wasn’t such a strong fighter for democracy, I’m sure he would be released by now.

In June this year, 37 U.S. senators sent a letter to the president of Vietnam urging the release of Father Ly. In December, just a few days ago the President of Vietnam met with the Pope in Rome. The Holy See had promised with archdiocese of Hue to take this important opportunity to raise Father Ly’s case and call the government to release Father Ly. We are convinced that the Holy See did that. However, nothing happened. We haven’t heard anything. In your opinion, what else, in this case could we do to help Father Ly?

I would think that the Holy See could probably be a little more open in desire to see Father Ly released. It would be no reason why I couldn’t see Vatican Radio and Vatican Media actually putting out a very strong release on that saying Father Ly has been a long-time fighter for basic religious principles and at the end of the day, allow him to live in some sort of dignity at the end of his life, potentially, because he has had a stroke it could be soon. You would think that the church would push for that so that Father Ly could live in some dignity. I would also think that members of local churches could go a long way to raising it within their local church and a petition. Campaign locally. I think realistically, the communist government, in Vietnam, needs to understand how strongly we feel about this, here in Australia, because it directly impacts upon tourism and ways on a beautiful place to visit and if you know that they do there, it’s not a nice place to visit. I would think that a localized campaign would send a very strong message, and not just from the Vietnamese community, but I think that our local Catholic churches could call on that. If they knew about the story of Father Ly, they could understand he’s fought for his religious freedoms like a very few people have ever seen.

What about in our own country, can some acts be committed by our MP, or senator (with regards to the U.S)?

I don’t see why not. I would think that it would be wrong to let Father Ly live out the rest of his days without dignity.

Do you have anything else you want to say to our people?

I just hope for Father Ly that he can live in some dignified way at the moment, because he’s obviously spent 17-18 years of his life in jail. What a terribly hard way to live. He’s been a great proponent for democracy and religious rights. He’s done such a marvellous job for the community. I just hope that he’s healthy and that he’s getting proper care in the hospital. And I would urge the Vietnamese government to treat this person with great dignity because he’s an incredible, strong powerful and impressive human being.

On behalf of Father Ly and also the church in Vietnam, we would like to thank you for your effort and we hope that we will be receiving your support.