37 U.S. Senators Urge Vietnam to Free Imprisoned Priest

Washington, USA - A group of United States senators urged Vietnam’s president on Wednesday to free a Roman Catholic priest as human rights groups said that his imprisonment justified putting Vietnam on a religious freedom blacklist.

The priest, the Rev. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, was sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2007 after being charged with spreading propaganda against Vietnam’s Communist government. He had previously served 16 years in prison for activities in which he advocated for human rights.

The group of 37 senators, who were led by Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, and Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, urged President Nguyen Minh Triet of Vietnam to free Father Ly, calling his trial “seriously flawed.”

“We request that you facilitate Father Ly’s immediate and unconditional release from prison, and allow him to return to his home and work without restrictions on his right to freedom of expression, association and movement,” the senators said in a letter.

“Father Ly’s longstanding nonviolent activities to promote religious freedom and democracy in Vietnam are well known in the United States,” wrote the senators, who included Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah.

The Vietnamese Embassy in Washington did not confirm receipt of the letter or issue a comment.

During Father Ly’s four-hour trial in 2007, he was denied access to a lawyer and was silenced by security guards when he tried to speak, said the human rights group Freedom Now.

Maran Turner, the executive director of Freedom Now, said Father Ly’s case and similar ones involving other religious figures should mean that Vietnam was placed on a United States government list of “countries of particular concern” for violations of religious freedom.

The United States, which put Vietnam on that list in 2004, lifted the designation before President George W. Bush visited Hanoi in November 2006.

Michael Cromartie, vice chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, was permitted to visit Father Ly in prison in May. Father Ly was “in solitary confinement for reasons that are not clear,” Mr. Cromartie said.