Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly is a Roman Catholic priest and prominent Vietnamese dissident involved in many pro-democracy movements. Father Ly has already spent around 15 years in prison for peacefully criticizing government policies on religion and advocating for greater respect for human rights since the late 1970’s. For his ongoing imprisonment and continuous non-violent protest, Amnesty International has adopted Nguyen Van Ly in December, 1983 as a Prisoner of conscience. In November, 2000, Nguyen Van Ly gained global and official attention, when members of the Committee for Religious Freedom visited Nguyen Van Ly in his village, during US president Clinton's visit to Vietnam but he was sentenced again in October 2001 to 15 years in prison for activities linked to the defence of free speech. The sentence was later reduced several times and he was finally released in February 2004. Most recently, his support for the Bloc 8406 manifesto has led to his sentence on March 30, 2007 for an additional eight years in prison. Read full biography

Friday, April 20, 2007

Jailed Vietnamese priest accepts suffering as witness to Catholic faith, brother says

PERTH, Australia (CNS) – A Vietnamese priest sentenced to jail for spreading propaganda has accepted his suffering as an opportunity to bear witness to Catholicism, said his older brother.
"He has said that going to jail, for him, is a chance to convert people and baptize them," said Nguyen Hoang An of his brother, Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly.

Vietnamese prisons do not allow inmates to be visited by priests, An told The Record, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth, through an interpreter. An has lived in Australia since 1983 but speaks little English. An said that during Father Ly’s long years in jail he has converted many prisoners and prison guards to the Catholic faith.

Prison authorities will not speak with Father Ly in his cell, where all conversations are filmed and recorded on tape. Instead they summon Father Ly to a meeting in the open air, where their words cannot be monitored by Communist Party officials, An said.

Father Ly, who has already spent 14 years in Vietnamese prisons – much of it in solitary confinement, was recently sentenced to eight more years in jail. Father Ly and four pro-democracy lay Catholic activists were jailed after speaking against Vietnam’s one-party government.

Though there has been speculation about the mental effect such intense incarceration might have had on Father Ly, An said his brother is mentally strong and that his frequent prayer to God while in jail acts as a preventative against mental deterioration.

An said he did not believe that his brother would be subjected to torture in his current imprisonment, but he said torture has been a regular feature of the prison system in Vietnam.
An, who has spent time in prison, described the psychological and physical tortures used for decades on ordinary, noncriminal Vietnamese who have run afoul of the communist regime.
"They torture you in many ways," he said. "They use two lights, very bright, and you have to look into it. Soon your brain goes blank. They don’t let you eat.

"They make you stand with your hands on the wall, and if you happen to kneel down or drop that pose, they will hit you," he said. "And in the heat, in the sun, they will make you stand to the flagpole. You have to stand and look at the flag and when you’re too tired, when you fall down, they will hit you and make you stand up again. And that’s before they start to question you.

"Then when you’re too frightened, you will say everything that they want you to say," said An. "They write your supposed confession and, in that state of mind, you sign whatever they have written for you."

An has called for Australia and other countries to impose sanctions on Vietnam until the country makes progress on human rights. The Vatican, Amnesty International, and American and Australian political leaders have publicly denounced the priest’s imprisonment.

An noted that he is not confident he will see his brother again. He said he previously attempted to organize safe passage for his brother to travel to Australia but that Father Ly had refused, saying that his fight for human rights and freedom of religion lay in Vietnam.

Members of the Australia Vietnam Human Rights Committee, who have been collaborating with An in promoting Father Ly’s cause, told The Record that they believed Father Ly would not be allowed to leave Vietnam.

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