Vietnam’s Temporary Release of Priest Goes against Trend


Government granting leave to Father Ly is said to be tightening control overall.

DUBLIN, March 30 (CDN) — Vietnamese officials have in recent months tightened control over those they regard as dissidents, and the temporary release of Catholic priest Thadeus Nguyen van Ly on March 15 was a rare exception, according to Amnesty International (AI).

Officials on March 15 released Ly, now 63, from prison for one year so that he could receive medical treatment.

An outspoken advocate for religious freedom, Ly was sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2007 for “spreading propaganda” against the state. He had previously received 10- and 15-year sentences on similar charges.

“The release of Father Ly appears to be a one-off, related to his health,” Brittis Edman, Asia researcher for AI, told Compass by phone.

Human rights lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan was released on March 6 after serving a three years in prison.  Officials have sentenced 16 other “perceived dissidents” since last September.

“Those 16 are people whose names are in the public domain,” Edman added. “There are probably others we’re not aware of.”

Edman confirmed that Ly was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, although few details are available on the prognosis or the availability of treatment. Fellow priests told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) that Ly had suffered three strokes in May, September and November of last year, partially paralyzing his right arm and leg and making it difficult for him to walk, write or feed himself.

Following urgent requests from diocesan priests and family members, officials on March 14 granted Ly one year’s reprieve from his jail sentence. On March 15 they transported him by ambulance from Ba Sao prison camp in northern Ha Nam province to a home for retired priests in Hue, central Vietnam.

Under pressure from international advocacy groups including AI, the government may have granted Ly’s release to ward off potential embarrassment should he die in prison, Edman said.

“He’s a very public figure, and the Vietnamese government is not comfortable with being criticized.”

Religious Rights Campaigner

Ly was first jailed for one year in 1977 when he distributed a Church statement decrying the arrest of Buddhist monks and the treatment of Catholics in Vietnam, according to an AI report.

This was followed in December 1983 by a 10-year sentence served from the time of his arrest in May 1983 until his early release in July 1992. Prior to his arrest, Ly wrote a seven-point document urging officials to cease harassing Christians and announced that he was willing to be martyred for his faith.

In November 1994 Ly issued a “Ten Point Statement on the State of the Catholic Church in the Hue Diocese,” criticizing the lack of adequate training for would-be priests, the state’s interference in church teachings and its appropriation of church property.

He also became an advisory board member of the U.S.-based Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam (CRFV), according to AI.

In 1999, authorities objected when Ly coordinated relief projects for flood victims in partnership with CRFV. In November 2000, while U.S. President Bill Clinton and a CRFV delegation were in Vietnam, Ly reissued his ten-point statement and later made further appeals for religious freedom.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in February 2001 invited Ly to address a hearing on Vietnam. Though unable to attend, Ly submitted written testimony stating that the Vietnamese government had “stripped all churches of their independence and freedom” and urging that the U.S. Congress not ratify a long-negotiated U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement.

State-owned media then accused Ly of inviting “foreign hostile forces to intervene in Vietnam’s internal affairs” and inciting Catholic followers against the state.

Officials in May 2001 seized Ly during a church service and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for allegedly spreading anti-government propaganda. He was released under house arrest in February 2005 but arrested again in February 2007 and sentenced to eight years for organizing a pro-democracy event.

When the government released over 5,000 prisoners to mark Vietnam’s National Day last Sept. 2, Ly was omitted from the list despite vigorous international campaigns for his release. In a state media report quoted by UCAN, Vice Minister of Public Security Le The Tiem declared that the priest was “still in good enough health to serve his sentence.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

INDONESIA: PASTOR ASSAULTED, THREATENED


Public Order official’s colleagues kick student ministry leader, issue more death threats.

JAKARTA, September 18 (Compass Direct News) – A Public Order official’s colleagues kicked Charles Hutahaean, chairman of the Indonesian Christian Students’ Movement (GMKI) in Jakarta, in the stomach last week and threatened to kill other GMKI staff members.

The Public Order official, Crisman Siregar, threatened to stab Hutahaean with a bayonet in the confrontation between him and his colleagues and the GMKI leader on Sept. 9. Previously Siregar had warned Hutahaean to “be careful with your life.”

Volunteer Public Order officials normally mediate local conflicts, among other community functions, but in this case have sided with a private company in a land dispute with GMKI. Land granted to the church was sold to a business venture, the Kencana Indotama Persada (KIP) Co., without the consent of GMKI, and construction workers have already partly demolished an old GMKI office building on the site.

GMKI now shares a newer office building with its parent ministry, the Alliance of Indonesian Churches (PGI). When KIP construction workers built a wall separating the new building from the old, GMKI students demolished it, sparking two violent attacks by Public Order officials on Aug. 26 and 28.

As GMKI staff members on Sept. 9 gathered to discuss these issues, two carloads of Public Order officials drove up and parked outside. Six men entered the premises and began tearing down banners erected inside the GMKI fence. The banners, which faced onto a busy road, protested the sale of the disputed land and accused Public Order officials of “masterminding” the August attacks.

When Hutahaen and other staff members tried to stop them, Siregar drew out a bayonet and threatened to stab the pastor. Following Siregar’s lead, the other officials threatened to kill GMKI members. They also kicked desks and chairs in the office building, causing minor damage.

GMKI staff members immediately reported the incident to the police, who arrived shortly after the attackers had left. Police officers, however, said it would be difficult to press charges since Siregar had not actually used the bayonet.

It was two weeks earlier, following the attacks on GMKI’s office, that Siregar had warned Hutahaean to “be careful with your life.” (See Compass Direct News, “Land Dispute Leads to Attacks on Christian Hub in Indonesia,” September 3.)

Compass sources said Public Order officials would likely benefit financially from protecting KIP’s business interests.

 

Mysterious Appropriation

The disputed property is a large piece of land originally granted by the Dutch colonial government to the Vereneging Christian School (VCS) Foundation. The VCS then gave the land to the Christian School Association, which in turn passed it on to a branch of its own association, the Christian Education Foundation (YBPK).

Although occupied by many Christian ministries and associations, including the Christian University of Indonesia and the Indonesia Bible Institute, sources said the land belonged to YBPK.

Under the terms of the land grant, the land could not legally be sold to business entities, according to GMKI lawyer Nikson Lalu. In August 2006, however, a board member of YBPK, acting independently of the board, sold a small plot of land to KIP. An old office belonging to GMKI was still standing on the plot of land, adjacent to a newer building shared by GMKI and PGI.

Compass sources noted that a gas station and business offices had replaced other ministry offices on the granted land. It was not clear, however, how the businesses had appropriated the land from YBPK.

Report from Compass Direct News