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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Prominent Jailed Priest Denied Bible In Vietnam Prison

HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)-- A well-known Catholic priest and editor serving eight years imprisonment in Vietnam for alleged anti-government activity, is not allowed to have a Bible and other items of his church, according to a transcript of a prison conversation obtained by BosNewsLife Saturday, October 27.

"Even papers and pen are not allowed to keep, not to mention to Bible," the 60-year-old priest, Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly, told his sister and cousin during their October 10 visit to ‘K1 Prison Camp’ in Ba Sao commune of Vietnam’s northern Ha Nam province.

"They only allow me to read 'Law' magazine you sent me. I am still in a single confinement cell. The cell floor was refaced with new tiles, to show off to visiting delegations. But until today, there is no delegation visiting me," he said.

On Mach 30, a judge at Thua Thien Hue Provincial People's Court in central Vietnam sentenced Ly in a four-and-a-half hour trial on March 30 to eight years in prison on charges of disseminating anti-government documents and communicating with pro-democracy activists overseas.

Authorities said Ly, who already spent over 14 years in jail for his pro-democracy activities, was plotting to merge his Vietnam Progression Party with overseas democracy activists and to overthrow the government.

"The Vietnamese constitution states that Vietnam has a one-party political system," Deputy Public Security Minister Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Huong said in published remarks. "It's illegal if some people want to establish another party, not to mention secretly inciting other people to join their organization and aim to overthrow the existing government."
The priest has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is seeking peaceful means to fight for democracy and freedom. Viewing himself as an innocent victim of persecution by the Communist Party, he initially refused to wear a prison uniforms.

"You, sister and cousin, should not have the wrong idea that I have admitted guilt” by wearing a "black-and-white striped prison suit." However “today, I have to wear it or the jail officers will not allow me to meet you," he told his sister Nguyen Thi Hieu and cousin, identified only as Ms. Minh, on October 10, according to the transcript.

He criticized Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for declaring during a recent visited to the United States that there are no political prisoners in Vietnam. "Why not? Living evidence is [myself] here and many other democracy activists who are currently in jail across Vietnam. I will stay in jail until Vietnam authorities admit they still keep…many political prisoners and prisoners of conscience," behind bars. . However he said life was not easy in prison. as besides a Bible he was not allowed a “bottle of wine used at Mass and a little box of communions" brought to him by two fellow priests. "Probably Father Quy mistakenly thought he is the City Council member so he is authoritative and valuable so he should be well respected by jail officers…" he said about one of the visiting priests. "This regime does not respect anybody. Furthermore, they do not respect people who follow, work and compromise with them. They respect people who dare to challenge and fight them," he apparenty added.

A key media tool for dissidents is the underground monthly magazine Tu do Ngôn luan (Free Speech) he edited, which the priest said is still distributed nationwide, BosNewsLife learned.
During the apparently emotionally charged meeting with family members, the priest asked why mail is addressed to "Mr./Brother Nguyen Van Ly" instead of "To: The Rev. Nguyen Van Ly?" His sister explained that writing the word "Priest" on a gift box is not authorized by the Vietnamese post office. "They will not send those gifts to you. The reason is this government [claims] it "does not imprison Church’s people," she said.

Ly said he had “not yet” received a Bible she sent to him, and expressed doubts that book would be handed over to him by prison authorities. He apparently managed to receive some other gifts from his family during their prison visit, but it was unclear if they would be taken away from him. He signed his gift receipt with: “The Rev. Nguyen Van Ly, prisoner of conscience.”

It comes amid fresh reports of a crackdown on activists. Dissidents told BosNewsLife that Le Thi Kim Thu, an outspoken protester whose properties “have been robbed by local authorities in Vietnam,” has been detained, while three other female activists were allegedly “electrocuted and assaulted by Vietnam police's high-voltage rods on October 11.” They were reportedly being interrogated by police for their roles of leading homeless residents to protest the government in Vietnam.

In addition Journalism student Nong van Khanh was allegedly electrocuted by a police high-voltage rod on October 10 for stealing a mobile phone, an attack activists link to her apparent involvement in freedom of speech.

More details were not immediately available, but several human rights organizations have expressed concerns about an apparent crackdown on dissent by a government they say allows more economic reforms but not the necessary political changes. At least hundreds of Christians are believed to be among detained activists. Besides priests and other church leaders, they also include less known believers and many Degar-Montanards, BosNewsLife established. (With reporting from Vietnam and other sources).