On Wednesday 37 members of the U.S. Senate called on President Nguyen Minh Triet to release Fr. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a longtime human rights advocate.
The bipartisan group of Senators, led by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) cited “serious flaws” concerning the priest’s arrest, trial and imprisonment. They asked the Vietnamese president to facilitate Father Ly’s “immediate and unconditional release from prison” and to allow him to return home and work without restrictions on his “internationally guaranteed” freedom of expression, association or movement.
Fr. Ly, now 63 years old, has been jailed three times since the 1970s for a total of 14 years, Agence Free Presse says. His four-hour trial in 2007 on charges of spreading propaganda against the Communist government led to an eight-year sentence.
During the trial the priest was physically restrained, gagged, and prohibited from defending himself, actions which drew condemnation from diplomats and human rights groups.
Jared Genser, president of the prisoners of conscience group Freedom Now, said his group was “strongly encouraged” by the Senators’ efforts.
“It is our hope that the Government of Vietnam will heed their call and bring to an end the continued and unjust imprisonment of Father Ly,” he said.
A Freedom Now press release described Fr. Ly’s detention as a “bellwether” for human rights in Vietnam.
Freedom Now executive director Maran Turner told AFP there has been “further repression” by the Vietnamese government, “more now than in quite some time.”
“At this time we feel they are backsliding,” she said.
According to AFP, Sens. John Kerry and John McCain, both Vietnam War veterans and former presidential candidates, did not sign the letter.
In November 2006 the U.S. State Department ceased to designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” following its passage of religious freedom legislation, which outlawed forced renunciations.