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9/24/03 - VIETNAM JAILS LY FAMILY MEMBERS - 2003-09-25

Vietnamese authorities have given jail sentences to two nephews and a niece of imprisoned Roman Catholic priest, Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly. They are Nguyen Vu Viet and Nguyen Truc Cuong and their sister, Nguyen Thi Hoa. They were charged with "abusing democratic freedom to cause harm to the state" -- one of many vague and arbitrary catchphrases used by Vietnamese authorities to punish peaceful dissent. They were denied legal counsel.

The U.S. Consulate General made repeated requests to Vietnamese officials to attend the trial. All were refused. As U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "no individual should be imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of one's views. The sentencing of these three individuals clearly violates international standards for the protection of human rights, including freedom of information."

Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly was arrested in May 2001 at his church in Hue, as he conducted religious services. He was charged with spreading "anti-government propaganda," after sending written testimony on Vietnamese human rights abuses to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In dramatic confirmation of all that Father Ly and other dissidents have said about repression in Vietnam, he was sentenced to fifteen years in jail, with an additional five years of probation following release. In July 2003, the sentence was reduced to ten years in jail, followed by five years of house arrest.

Michael Young, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said, "the convictions illustrate once again Vietnam's disregard of international human rights standards. The imprisonment of Father Ly and his relatives, and the many other political and religious prisoners in Vietnam, is a major impediment to expanded relations between our two countries."

Father Ly is not the only Vietnamese persecuted on religious grounds. Protestant Christians in ethnic minority areas, as well as some Buddhists and members of the Hoa Hao and Cao Dai religious groups, are subject to harassment by police.

Denying religious freedom and imprisoning those who protest this denial will not make Vietnam more secure. True security comes only when the rights of all citizens are protected. Vietnam should release, immediately, Father Ly, his relatives, and all prisoners of conscience.