Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fr. Nguyen Van Ly trial on Friday

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) appealed today to Vietnam's judicial authorities, asking them not to impose a prison sentence on Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly. Fr. Ly, age 60, is to be tried on Friday in Hue, on charges of spreading "hostile propaganda against the government," which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison under Article 88 of Vietnam's Criminal Code.

The RWB appeal described the trial as a test of Vietnam's political system, and whether or not freedom of speech really does exist in the country, as promised in the Constitution. In truth, free speech is prohibited by the Communist Party of Vietnam whenever such speech involves criticism of the one-party system or advocacy of other politioal parties. Two others are to be tried along with Fr. Ly: Nguyen Phong and Nguyen Binh Thanh. Phong, age 32, is charged with posting the Progressive Party of Vietnam's platform online. Thanh, age 51, is an electrician who is accused of helping to buy and maintain computer equipment for the production of Ly's newspaper.

F. Ly has spent most of the last 30 years in and out of prison and house arrest for his dissident activities. In Oct. 2001 he was sentenced to 15 years for his pro-democracy activities, but was released in an amnesty in Feb. 2004. Vietnam's official media has accused him and his group of a list of political crimes, including gathering, printing and disseminating anti-government propaganda, giving radio interviews to foreign stations, and violating the terms of his house arrest. He is a founding member of the "Bloc 8406", a pro-democracy organization founded on April 8 last year; was active in the banned Progressive Party; and editing a dissident magazine, Tu Do Ngon Luan. The magazine is still published for now, edited by dissident priests Fr. Chan Tin and Fr. Phan Van Loi, both who carry on despite being under police surveillance.

Sources: Reporters Without Borders news release, March 29; Agence France Presse/Frank Zeller March 29. See also Amnesty International backgrounder on Fr. Ly (July 5, 2001), which includes the text of his 2001 house arrest order. Tu Do Thong Tin Ngon Luan Viet Nam seems to be a site dedicated to Fr. Ly and the dissident movement there; Tu Do Ngon Luan is the online site of the magazine Fr. Ly edited, now edited by Fr. Chan Tin.


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