By BosNewsLife Asia Service
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)– There were new concerns Friday, September 23, about the health situation of jailed Vietnamese priest Nguyen Van Ly, who already spent over 15 years in prison “for his work in advocating religious freedom, democracy and human rights in Vietnam” his supporters said.
Ly, 65, was re-arrested by authorities on July 25 in the Hue Archdiocese in Vietnam’s central city of Hue, after he was released temporarily in March last year following two strokes that left him partially paralyzed.
“Despite his ill health, Father Ly continues to be detained,” said Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) one of several groups demanding his release. VOMC said it had urged its supporters to “pray for the Lord’s care and provision in his life” and “that the charges…will be dropped.
Earlier the United States condemned the detention of the priest, who was reportedly transported to prison by ambulance. “We are concerned by the Government of Vietnam’s decision to return long-time human rights defender Father Nguyen Van Ly to prison on July 25,” said Heide Bronke Fulton, a spokesperson of the U.S. State Department. “Father Ly suffers from a brain tumor and should continue to be allowed to seek medical treatment.”
Fulton added that “No individual should be imprisoned for expressing the right to free speech.” In September 2010, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention claimed Father Ly was “denied a fair trial and ruled his detention was arbitrary, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and called for his immediate release,” the spokesperson added.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) agrees. “Throwing Father Ly back in prison only compounds the cruelty and injustice of his original sentence,” explained Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
“Father Ly was convicted solely for expressing peaceful political beliefs and should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” the HRW official added.
The state-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA) said he was returned to prison for “compiling, storing and distributing documents…opposing the Party and the State”
of the Communist-run Asian nation and “inciting people to…stage demonstrations,” which it claimed defied the law.
Ly was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2007 for what his supporters called “pro-democracy activities”, including issuing a manifesto urging a peaceful struggle to establish human rights and democracy in Vietnam.
The authorities charged him with disseminating “anti-government propaganda,” under penal code article 88. During his trial in 2007, police placed their hands over his mouth to muzzle him when he confronted Vietnamese judicial officials and accused them of practicing the “law of the jungle.”
However, “Returning Father Ly to prison for another five years poses serious risks to his health and violates his right to peaceful expression and freedom from arbitrary detention,” Robertson said.
Ly spent a total of 15 years in prison since 1977 “for his peaceful campaigning for religious freedom, democracy, and human rights,” according to HRW investigators and local Christians.
He was one of the principal architects of the democracy movement known as Bloc 8406, named after the date of its founding on April 8, 2006. The priest also played leading roles in two underground pro-democracy publications, ‘Tu Do Ngon Luan’ (Freedom of Expression) and ‘Tu Do Dan Chu’ (Freedom and Democracy), and was one of the founding members of the opposition Vietnam Progression Party. In 2008 and 2004, he received the prestigious Hellmann/Hammett writers award.
“Vietnam denies its people basic freedoms and unjustly imprisons peaceful activists like Father Ly,” Robertson said. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).