By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– A Catholic priest who is serving a long prison term in Vietnam on charges that Christians link to his fight for religious freedom and democracy has suffered another “serious stroke,” his supporters told BosNewsLife late Thursday, November 19.
Father Nguyen Van Ly, 63, suffered “a second stroke” Saturday, November 14, while “kneeling to pray” and as a result “is now paralyzed on the right side of his body,” said Ann Buwalda, director of Christian rights group Jubilee Campaign USA.
“He is currently undergoing tests and treatment at a hospital in Hanoi where doctors believe he may have a blockage in his brain,” Buwalda added. “Father Ly’s family has been permitted intermittent access to visit him and bring him food and changes of clothes from the five or so guards who surround Father Ly’s room,” she told BosNewsLife.
“His health continues to deteriorate without sympathy from the authorities,” Buwalda explained. Vietnamese officials could not immediately be reached for comment. However answering recent questions from BosNewsLife at a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung defended Vietnam’s policy towards the Catholic Church.
Dung also defended his government’s decision to stop the Catholic Church from taking back church buildings and other properties that were confiscated by the state since 1954, a move publicly criticized by Father Ly.
“All properties in Vietnam belong to the country and the government. And all the property claims have to be carried out according to the law,” Dung said. The prime minister also warned that he “rejects the idea of any religious groups working against the law,” of the Communist-run Asian nation.
Father Ly was arrested in March 2007 on charges of “disseminating anti-government propaganda,” following his public religious freedom and pro-democracy work and sentenced to eight years imprisonment and five years house arrest.
At the court hearing he was gagged and had no chance to defend himself, according to several trial observers. Since his detention, “Father Ly has served his time in solitary confinement with limited visits from family,” said Buwalda, who also called the church leader “an inspirational symbol among Vietnamese activists and human rights defenders everywhere.”
Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of 37 members of the United States Senate, reportedly urged Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet to release the priest noting “serious flaws in relation to [Father Ly’s] arrest, trial, and imprisonment”.
Vietnam has Southeast Asia’s second largest Catholic community after the Philippines, with at least six million followers, and critics have expressed concerns of more social unrest because of the perceived harsh government policy towards the priest and other believers.
Jubilee Campaign USA said it was also concerned about the plight of two Christian lawyers and six other pro-democracy activists who have been jailed in Vietnam. Hundreds of Degar-Montagnard Christians and other believers also remain detained across the country, according to several rights groups.
In addition, “Many Catholics and Protestants reported Christians are not considered for senior government positions because of unofficial discrimination within the Government,” said the U.S. State Department in a recent report.
Catholic and Protestant activists have criticized Washington however for scrapping Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern regarding religious rights, saying the move would legitimize the Communist government and what they view as the war on religion.
Buwalda told BosNewsLife that Jubilee Campaign USA had urged its supporters to “pray for the release of activists and dissidents in Vietnam, especially for Father Ly.” She said her group hopes that the “campaign taken up by his lawyers will be successful in garnering his release” and that “we would see justice in this case.” (Follow BosNewsLife via Twitter. www.twitter.com/bosnewslife )