.- The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has condemned the Vietnamese government’s latest arrest of religious freedom advocate Fr. Nguyen Van Ly.
“Father Ly should be immediately and unconditionally released,” said commission chair Leonard Leo. He characterized Fr. Ly as a “frail” priest who has “peacefully advocated for the fundamental right to freedom of religion.”
Vietnamese officials seized him “without any warning” and despite his caretakers’ statements that he is not well enough to travel, Leo said.
Fr. Ly, 63, is under treatment for several strokes and an apparent brain tumor. Since March 2010 he has been on medical parole. In May 2007 he was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years of house arrest on charges of spreading anti-communist propaganda.
The priest is known for his peaceful protest of the communist state and its human rights violations. He is a founding member of Bloc 8406, the first well-organized pro-democracy group in his country, where many Catholics suffer because of communism.
Authorities re-arrested Fr. Ly at a home for retired priests on July 25.
The religious freedom commission, an independent bipartisan entity of the U.S. government, called the priest “one of Vietnam’s most prominent advocates for religious freedom and related human rights.”
Leo charged that Vietnam ignored the United States’ concerns about the priest’s treatment. He said it is time for the Obama administration to re-designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern, a designation which highlights “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” in commission recommendations to the State Department.
The designation would help produce “tangible” religious freedom improvements and help signal that the United States sides with the peaceful advocates of human freedom, Leo said.
Fr. Ly was imprisoned in 2001 after he submitted testimony to the U.S. religious freedom commission and released in 2005 after Vietnam was designated as a Country of Particular Concern. In 2007 he was re-arrested shortly after the Bush administration lifted the designation.
In January the U.S. State Department lodged a sharp protest with the Vietnamese government after police beat U.S. diplomat Christian Marchant when he attempted to visit Fr. Ly, then under house arrest.