By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– Christian rights activists on Tuesday, March 16, welcomed the early release by Vietnam of a prominent Catholic priest from prison after he served just three of an-eight year sentence, but they expressed concerns over his health.
Priest Nguyen Van Ly, 63, told reporters he was released Monday, March 15, on medical parole, after suffering three strokes in jail, leaving him partially paralyzed, although he can walk with a cane.
“They didn’t want to be responsible for the treatment of my tumor, which is complicated, and they wanted to improve their standing in the international community,” he said in a statement to The Associated Press (AP) news agency.
Ly made the comments in the main Catholic church in the central city of Hue where he arrived Monday, March 15, with an ambulance from the Ba Sao prison in the northern province of Ha Nam.
The church said it planned to seek medical treatment for the frail priest.
His release came after “a sustained international” campaign on his behalf, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), one of several groups supporting the priest.
The campaign of human rights groups also included a statement last July by 37 United States Senators urging Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet to release Ly.
One of them, Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, welcomed Ly’s release but condemned d the detention, trial and conviction. “It is long past time for Vietnam to abide by its own constitution and international law and immediately release all those detained for their peaceful advocacy of religious and political freedoms,” she said in a statement.
Vietnam has sent 16 democracy activists to jail in the last several months and there are believed to be at least hundreds of Christians in several prisons in the country, many of them of the Degar-Montagnard community.
Ly, who has been a long-time rights activist, has been in and out of prison and house arrest for years, most recently for helping found a group called Bloc 8406, which promoted multi party democracy.
In 2007, he was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years of house arrest on charges of disseminating anti-government propaganda. During a dramatic trial, police muzzled him for shouting anti-communist slogans and accusing Vietnamese officials of practicing “the law of the jungle.”
“I will always consider myself a prisoner of conscience,” Ly reportedly said. “I do not accept that sentence.”
CSW’s Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said Ly had suffered of trials “that did not follow due process under Vietnamese or international law.” Lambert added that she hopes “Father Ly will now be able to spend time with his family and receive appropriate medical assistance.”