Vietnam Acts Against Priest who Talks to US Freedoms Commission
An official Vietnamese daily demanded tough punishment Saturday for a Catholic priest who complained about violations of religious freedoms here, in a move likely to increase US criticism of the communist regime's human rights record.
Dissident cleric Father Tadeus Nguyen Van Ly should be "punished severely" for the evidence he submitted to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom last month, the mouthpiece of the Hanoi branch of the ruling communist party, Hanoi Moi, said.
His "false evidence" had enabled the commission to make "subjective observations" about human rights in Vietnam.
The communist authorities had already barred Father Tadeus from travelling to Washington to testify at the February 13 hearings.
Any move to punish him for the written evidence which he submitted in defiance of the travel ban is likely to add to mounting pressure on the US Congress to delay ratification of a key trade deal signed with Vietnam last July.
"In his 'testimony' before the US commission ... Nguyen Van Ly distorted the truth to slander the Communist Party of Vietnam and insult (venerated wartime) leader Ho Chi Minh," the mouthpiece of the Hanoi party charged.
"He abused religious freedom to distort and slander the anti-American revolution of the Vietnamese people and the leading role of the Communist Party of Vietnam .... while calling for urgent US intervention to put an end to the communist regime."
The paper noted that under Article 13 of the constitution, "any activity or conspiracy against the independence, sovereignty, reunification or territorial integrity of Vietnam or against the construction and protection of the socialist fatherland will be punished severely by law."
"Nguyen Van Ly's activities are a violation of Article 13 and must be punished in accordance with the law."
Father Tadeus already faces tight restrictions -- he has lived under surveillance in cathedral vestiary in the former imperial capital of Hue since his release from 10 years' imprisonment in 1995 and remains barred from officiating at church services.
But he has continued to be a thorn in the side of the communist authorities, acting as adviser to the emigre Committee on Religious Freedoms in Vietnam and leading his parishioners in a campaign for the restoration of church lands seized by the communist authorities after the 1975 end of the Vietnam War.
In December he was reported to have gone on hunger strike after police tore down banners calling for religious freedom which his parishioners had erected on the contested lands.
"Liberty does not come free of charge -- we must be prepared to shed tears and blood and even lay down our lives in the struggle for religious freedom," he said in a December letter published on the website of his US supporters.
The renewed moves against him come at a sensitive time for the Vietnamese authorities as Congress prepares to consider ratification of the trade agreement which is a key plank of their economic reforms.
The violent suppression of a wave of unrest among the mainly Christian ethnic minorities of the central highlands last month and a fresh clampdown on the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) have already sparked renewed criticism of their human rights record.
At last month's commission hearings in Washington, the UBCV's exiled spokesman, Vo Van Ai, openly called on Congress to delay ratification of the trade deal because of the mounting rights concerns.
Even the deal's supporters now admit that ratification will be much harder than expected -- US ambassador Pete Peterson is due to fly to Washington on Monday to lobby the 50 or so newly elected members of Congress – HANOI (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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