.- A Vietnamese priest has denied media accusations that he has engaged in “counter-revolutionary” activities, including the possession on his laptop of documents and e-mails with “bad content” that allegedly would destroy national unity and the socio-economic policies of the government.
The People’s Public Security Newspaper and other state-owned media on Tuesday said Fr. Joseph Le Quang Uy had “bent his head admitting that he had commited crimes against people and the government.”
The paper claimed the Redemptorist priest was discovered to have violated the country’s Publishing Law when customs agents at Tan Son Nhat airport discovered documents and e-mails with “bad content” on his laptop, Fr. J.B. An Dang tells CNA.
Fr. Joseph Le Quang Uy was detained at the airport on June 6 returning home from a pastoral trip abroad. His luggage was thoroughly searched and his laptop was confiscated by airport security.
The priest was later released with a citation requiring him to visit the Office of Cultural Inspection for follow-up meetings. Described as a pro-life “hero,” he is also an outspoken critic of bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam.
Fr. Joseph Le denied all accusations against him. He stated that police had altered and distorted the statements he signed at the airport on June 29, Fr. J.B. An Dang reports. He said most of the documents on his laptop were sermons. A few documents were articles reflecting his opposition to bauxite mining in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
“As they still had been drafts on my own laptop, they could not violate Publishing Law,” he said.
The priest had previously set up a website asking Catholics in Vietnam and abroad to sign an electronic petition which called for an immediate suspension of the mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
Since February, state-owned media have repeatedly accused the priest of “conducting propaganda against the state” and “plotting to overthrow the communist regime.” The media have called for his “immediate and severe punishment” on charges under Article 88 of the Penal Code. If convicted, he could face a three- to twenty-year sentence or possibly the death penalty.
Vietnamese authorities have recently arrested at least 30 dissidents, including a number of prominent lawyers, in what Fr. An Dang described to CNA as an attempt to stifle freedom of expression and association.
“There is growing concern over the imminent crackdown against the Redemptorists in Vietnam who have repeatedly struggled for the requisition of Church properties and petitioned the government not to proceed with the project to mine the bauxite in the central high plains, which would cause irreversible damage to the environment and to the local people, many of whom belong to ethnic minorities,” Fr. An Dang said.
Pope Benedict XVI recently told a delegation of Vietnamese bishops that, “Healthy collaboration between the Church and the political community is possible.” “The Church does not seek to substitute government, rather her only desire, through a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration, is to participate in life of the nation, at the service of all people."