In September 1977, Father Ly was arrested for distributing two essays by Archbishop Nguyen Kim Dien critical of the government’s religious repression. He was given a 20 year sentence and sent to a labor camp near Hue.
Several months later, authorities released Father Ly, but prohibited him from engaging in religious activities.
Father Ly continued religious teaching and in January 1983 was sent into internal exile. He sent a letter which exposed the government’s religious repression and pledged to stay at his parish where followers gathered around his residence in support.
On the morning of May 18, 1983, security forces forcibly removed Father Ly from his home. He was subsequently sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and 4 years probation. Released in July 1992, Father Ly was placed under police surveillance and again banned from conducting religious activities.
On November 24, 1994, he issued a “10-point Statement on the State of the Catholic Church in Hue Diocese” detailing the government’s violations of religious freedom. Authorities exiled him to Thuy Bieu village (near Hue) with only a small Catholic community. Father Ly re-released his 10-point Statement in November 2000 followed by an appeal titled “We Need True Religious Freedom in Vietnam.” In these documents, he described the communist government’s long-standing policy on religions in general and the Catholic Church in particular as a “noose around the neck of the religions.”
On December 4, 2000, in protest of the government’s seizure of church property and restrictions on their activities, Father Ly and parishioners Nguyet Bieu planted a large banner with the words “We need Freedom of Religion” on the church’s land and started to sow seed. Public Security cadres arrived immediately and engaged in acts of intimidation. In early 2001, authorities increased the harassment and isolation of Father Nguyen Van Ly. His telephone line was intermittently cut-off. Father Ly, however, continued to speak out.
In February, he provided written testimony for a hearing by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. He also submitted written remarks for a briefing by the US Congressional Human Rights Caucus on May 16.
On May 17, 2001, over 600 security police stormed An Truyen Parish to arrest Father Nguyen Van Ly. In a two-hour trial on October 19, 2001, authorities sentenced Father Ly to 15 years in prison (later reduced to 10 then 5 years) and 5 years of house arrest. • As a result of international pressure, Father Ly is released from prison in early 2004 but remains under house arrest in the Archdiocese of Hue.
On April 8, 2006, Father Nguyen Van Ly is one of the writers of the “Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam”. Later on, the signers of this Manifesto will call themselves « Bloc 8406 », with reference to the date of the document.
On April 15, 2006, Father Ly and three other Catholic Priests publish the magazine “Freedom of Speech” (in Vietnamese Tu Do Ngon Luan), the first and only privately-owned be-weekly magazine, distributed free of charge throughout Vietnam via an underground network.
On June 20, 2006, Bloc 8406 issued the “Declaration on 10 Fundamental Conditions for a truly free, democratic and multi-party National Assembly Election in 2007”, calling for a large-scale boycott of the Vietnam’s National Assemble Election in 2007, as long as it continues to be orchestrated by the Communist Party of Vietnam.
On September 8, 2006, Father Ly is one of the founding members of the Vietnam Progression Party (in Vietnamese Dang Thang Tien Vietnam).
On February 19, 2007, security police surrounded and raided Hue Archdiocese to ransack the office, confiscate computers and arrest Father Nguyen Van Ly. They moved him to the remote location of Ben Cui in central Vietnam, where he was under house arrest; Father Ly engaged in a hunger strike from February 24 to March 5.
On March 30, 2007, Father Nguyen Van Ly is sentenced to 8 years in prison for allegedly disseminating materials intended to undermine Vietnam's government. Father Ly Nguyen's mouth was physically muzzled during his trial.