Vietnam Frees Long-Time Jailed Priest, But Pastor "Killed" By Military
By BosNewsLife Asia Service
June 5, 2016
HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife)--
Church officials in Vietnam say one of the country's longest serving prisoners
of conscience was released under pressure from the United States, but Christians
remain concerned about an alleged Communist government-led crackdown on devoted
believers, which included killing an evangelical pastor and a Christian convert.
Nguyen Van Ly, a priest who spent much of the
last two decades either in jail or under house arrest, was freed last month,
three days ahead of the May 22 arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama, church
"Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly has returned to the
mother diocese...after his years and months in (northern) Nam Ha jail," the
archdiocese of Hue said in a short statement. In photos released by the
Archdiocese, the 80-year-old priest could be seen kneeling — with assistance —
before the archbishop upon return to his parish. The archdiocese claimed he was
in good health.
Church observers said the human rights activist
was punished harshly due to his opposition to the political monopoly of the
Communist party and his stand against the government confiscation of church
properties. He also set up a pro-democracy movement, campaigning for democracy
and freedom of speech.
During long periods of incarceration, sometimes
in solitary confinement, he reportedly suffered numerous health problems,
including strokes and partial paralysis.
His long-awaited release took place three months
before the end of an eight-year prison sentence for "anti-state propaganda," a
charge human rights groups say is used to punish outspoken critics.
Yet news of his release was overshadowed by
fresh reports that the recent killing of evangelical pastor Dang Ba Nham and a
new Christian in Vietnam's north-central coastal city of Vinh was no accident.
Local Christians said the pastor, his wife, and
a church elder were praying on a roadside with a woman who had recently
converted to Christianity.
They reportedly stood in front of the property
of the new Christian, Phan Thi Thanh Huyen, to ask God for His blessing in
building a new house. As they were praying, a large pickup truck with red
military plates veered across the street and ploughed into the small group.
Pastor Nham was dragged about 15 meters and died
at the scene. He was 56. The new believer, Huyen, died of injuries the next day.
Pastor Nham’s wife underwent complex surgery for
serious neck and upper body injuries on May 9, according to Christians familiar
with the situation.
The church said she is weak, and her recovery
uncertain. The church elder, Hoang Ngoc Hung, was transported to Hanoi by the
military and has also undergone serious surgery. An attending doctor reportedly
said his chances of surviving are no more than 20 percent.
"Serving the Vietnam Good News Mission Church,
Pastor Nham was an effective evangelist in Nghe An, Thanh Hoa, Ha Tinh and Quang
Binh – probably the four provinces in Vietnam most hostile to the Gospel, and
the location of regular incidents of persecution," commented Christian news
agency Morning Star News. He had reportedly been warned to stop sharing his
faith in Jesus Christ.
Witnesses said however that many believers
attended the May 8 funeral at his church in Vinh.
Critics have suggested that the alleged killings
underscore that despite announced reforms authorities continue to crackdown on
Christians publicly expressing their faith and others deemed a threat to the
Communist power structure.
Rights groups had been pressing Obama to use his
recent trip to push the Vietnamese government to release political prisoners,
including Christians, and tie trade deals to human rights.
At least about 130 people are currently
imprisoned for acts of peaceful dissent, according to rights activists.
Recently, a coalition of 19 groups, including
Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Human Rights Watch, wrote an open letter to
Obama urging him to realize that the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship will not
fundamentally advance absent meaningful
human rights improvements, including the release
of imprisoned activists, an end to harassment of civil society groups, and
respect for international law."