also detained prominent dissident priest Nguyen Van Ly and two colleagues as part of a crackdown on church activists, dissidents confirmed to BosNewsLife Saturday, February 24.
Ly, who is also editor of the underground magazine ‘Tu do Ngon luan’, or ‘Free Speech’ was put under house arrest at the archdiocesan Nha Chung building in Hue, where he lives, said the dissidents group International Movement for Democracy and Human Rights in Vietnam (IMDHR).
Two others editors of Tu do Ngon luan, identified as Catholic priests Chan Tin and Phan Van Loi, were also put under house arrest, the dissidents and advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said.
"Father Nguyen Van Ly has been arrested by a force of over 60 undercover police," the IMDHR told BosNewsLife in a statement.
The officers, who were apparently led by a colonel specializing in religious matters, reportedly also cut of phone lines, searched the entire building and broke open a cupboard which Ly refused to unlock. They took away six computers and mobile phones and many documents, Reporters Without Borders said in published remarks. The IMDHR said it is concerned about the priest’s health as he "has been on a hunger strike" to protest his house arrest, which apparently impacted his blood pressure.
Last released under an amnesty in February 2005, Ly risks being kept under house arrest until 2010, the group explained. There was no immediate reaction from Vietnamese officials.
Ly is a member of the pro-democracy movement ‘Bloc 8406’ and spent years in prison in 1977 and 1978 and from 1983 to 1992 because of his activism in support of freedom of expression and worship, activists said.
He was sentenced again in October 2001 to 15 years in prison for activities linked to the defense of free speech. The sentence was commuted several times and he finally left prison in February 2004.
His nephew, the cyber-dissident Nguyen Vu Viet, was charged in June 2001 with "using email, fax and telephone to disseminate abroad information about religious freedom in Vietnam," Reporters Without Borders recalled. He and two colleagues were given sentences ranging from three to five years in prison. Their sentences were subsequently commuted and he was released on 18 February 2004.
The IMDHR told BosNewsLife that the arrests seemed part of a wider crackdown on church activists and their churches. "A recent tragic incident that solidified our strong conviction of systematically religious persecution was the destruction of a-hundred-year-old Virgin Mary statute. It was completely destroyed at Dong Dinh parish in Ninh Binh province." The group said that the local village administrator had ordered to take down Virgin Mary statute. "Now, the Virgin Mary statute has been 100% destroyed overnight," the IMDHR added.
The group accused Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung of "shamelessly lying" when he visited Pope Benedict XVI on January 25 as part of attempts to strengthen diplomatic relations with the Vatican. It said the prime minister was responsible for the recent arrests of priests.
"There is absolutely no freedom and human rights in Vietnam [and] humans are only considered subjects for the heartless government exploitation to benefit two million Communist Party members out of 84.5 million permanently suppressed citizens," the IMDHR said.
Besides priests at least hundreds of predominantly Christian Degar Montagnards and other believers are said to have been detained across Vietnam. The United States has however made clear it wants to reestablish closer ties with Vietnam and removed it from its list of Countries of Particular Concern regarding religious rights abuses. (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife Research and reporting from Vietnam).
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