By Ramon Gonzalez
Western Catholic Reporter
Amnesty International is calling on Catholics and people of goodwill everywhere to press the government of Vietnam to release human rights activist Father Nguyen Van Ly.
Father Ly, 64, is serving an eight-year prison sentence for consistently calling for more religious freedom and for his long-standing criticism of the human rights policies of the Vietnamese government.
In March 2010 he was temporarily allowed out of prison for medical treatment after he suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
However, in July 2011 he was taken back to Ba Saoi prison accused of inciting dissent. He is said to be in poor health and is partially paralyzed as a result of the stroke.
Melina Dayne, an Amnesty International member in Edmonton, has been working on Ly’s case for 18 months. Apart from encouraging people to send emails and letters to the Vietnamese government, she leaves pamphlets about Father Ly where people can find them.
“Unfortunately, he is still in prison,” she laments. “He belongs in a hospice.”
Dayne, a registered nurse and a member of St. Anthony’s Parish, wants Edmontonians to take action on Ly’s behalf. “We have a responsibility to speak up for those who do not have a voice.”
Until his recent arrest Father Ly had been living under surveillance at a house for retired priests in the Diocese of Hue, central Vietnam.
“The authorities have claimed that Father Ly has been returned to prison because he had distributed documents critical of government policies and incited demonstrations,” states a news release from Amnesty International. “He is said to be in poor health.”
Father Ly is one of the founders of the Internet-based pro-democracy movement Bloc 8406, and has helped to set up other political groups, which are banned by the Vietnamese authorities. He also secretly published a dissident journal, To Do Ngon Luan (Freedom and Democracy).
“We consider Father Ly to be a prisoner of conscience,” said John Tackaberry, spokesperson for the national office of Amnesty International in Ottawa.
“He has spent around 17 years in prison since the 1970s on account of his calls for respect for human rights and freedom of expression. And he has never being involved in or advocated the use of violence.”
Freedom of expression, association and assembly are severely restricted in Vietnam, said Tackaberry.
“The authorities in Vietnam routinely harass and imprison peaceful activists critical of government policies and those advocating for greater freedoms and Father Ly falls into that category and they’ve harassed him for that reason.”
Tackaberry said dozens of prisoners of conscience, including bloggers, lawyers, writers, labour activists, business people and supporters of opposition groups, are serving long prison terms under legislation which criminalizes peaceful dissent.
Amnesty is urging people to call on the Vietnamese authorities to release Father Ly immediately and unconditionally.
“Urge them to reveal where he is, and allow him immediate access to his family and a lawyer of his choice,” the Amnesty news release states. “Ask them to ensure that Father Ly has full access to any medical attention he may require.”
Appeals for Father Ly’s release should be sent to the following authorities:
Minister of Public Security Le Hong Anh, Ministry of Public Security, 44 Yet Kieu Street, Hanoi, Vietnam; Fax: 011 8443 942 0223 (Salutation: Dear Minister).
Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Gia Khiem, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1 Ton That Dam Street, Ba Dinh district, Hanoi, Vietnam; Fax: 011 8443 823 1872; Email: email@example.com (Salutation: Dear Minister).
A copy of the appeal should be sent to: His Excellency Sy Vuong Ha Le, Ambassador for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, 470 Wilbrod St., Ottawa, ON K1N 6M8; Fax: (613) 236-2704; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.