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FATHER THADEUS NGUYEN VAN LY

Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Vietnamese Roman Catholic priest and advocate for religious freedom, had spent a lifetime attempting to exercise his right to freedom of expression and freedom of worship.
Father Nguyen Van Ly was ordained as a priest in 1974. He taught at a seminary in Hue, and served as secretary to the then Bishop of Hue Monsignor Philippe Nguyen Kim Dien. Father Nguyen Van Ly distributed copies of Monsignor Dien's statements expressing the Monsignor’s sadness at the arrest of Buddhist monks. The bishop's position was publicly denounced in Công Giao va Dân Tôc, the official newspaper of the Southern Catholic Liaison Committee. A year later, on 14 August 1982, Father Nguyen Van Ly, by this time parish priest of Doc So, in the Hue diocese, accompanied by one other priest and a number of Christian followers, attempted to make the pilgrimage to La Vang. Police blocked the road and forced the pilgrims to return to Hue.

On 20 November 1982, Father Nguyen Van Ly was arraigned before the Binh Tri Thien provincial People's Tribunal, charged with leading an illegal pilgrimage to La Vang. He was convicted, expelled from the Doc So parish and ordered to retire to his native village. Father Nguyen Van Ly refused to do so, insisting he would only leave his parish on the orders of his superior, Monsignor Dien, the Archbishop of Hue. Religious people of both Catholic and Buddhist faiths gathered at the Doc So presbytery and frustrated the attempts of the police to arrest Father Nguyen Van Ly, until 18 May 1983, when around 200 policemen came in the morning and arrested the priest by force. He was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on 13 December1983, and was released in July 1992.
After he was released from prison in July 1992, he was appointed priest at the Nguyen Bieu church, in Thuy Bieu village, Hue Diocese, and continued his ministry there, but did not remain silent on issues that concerned him. In November 1994, he published a ''10 Point Statement on the State of the Catholic Church in the Hue Diocese''. This statement criticised the state's appropriation of church property, the lack of places in seminaries for men to train for the priesthood, and the interference of the state in church teachings.

On 13 February 2001, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom held a meeting on the issue of freedom of religion in Viet Nam, and Father Nguyen Van Ly was invited to address the hearing. He was unable to attend in person, because he could not leave Viet Nam, but he did submit written testimony which was presented to the Commission. Father Ly's testimony was highly critical of the situation in Viet Nam, and stated that ''in the realm of religion, the control of the communist government has stripped all churches of their independence and freedom''. In addition to many pages of highly critical analysis, Father Nguyen Van Ly also advocated that the US Congress should not ratify the long-negotiated US-Viet Nam Bilateral Trade Agreement, because of the lack of respect for human rights and freedom of religion in Viet Nam. Father Ly's testimony was published on the Internet, making it widely available internationally, but unlikely to be seen by the majority of Vietnamese people. The official Vietnamese media quickly criticized the hearing itself, and much of what was said by the various participants.

Father Nguyen Van Ly was arrested early in the morning on 17 May 2001, in his church as he prepared to celebrate mass. A large number of policemen, possibly up to 600, surrounded and then stormed An Truyen church. After the arrest, Father Ly was denied access to legal counsel. On October 19, 2001, the Thua Thien Hue Provincial People's Court convicted Father Ly after a two-hour, closed trial. Father Ly was sentenced to two years in prison for violating the terms of his administrative detention, thirteen years in prison for "damaging the Government's unity policy," and five years of administrative probation upon release from prison. He was never been given access to an attorney.
Vietnamese human rights organizations reported that Father Ly is being held in a small, isolated cell at a hard labor camp in the Nam Ha province. Furthermore, the Government denied Father Ly contact with other prisoners and the Government prohibited guards from speaking with him. The Government severely limited time provided to Father Ly outside his cell, generally denied him the use of pen and paper, except for allowing a monthly correspondence, and refused to give him items brought to him in prison, including Christian books and some food items.

On March 31, 2004, the House International Relations Committee unanimously passed H.Con.Res. 378. On May 11, 2004, the resolution, by now co-sponsored by 107 Members of Congress, was debated in the House of Representatives and passed the Congress on a roll call vote of 424-1. On November 18, 2004, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, wrote a letter to the President of Vietnam urging Father Ly's release.

On January 31, 2005, the Government of Vietnam announced it would release Father Ly from prison as part of a general amnesty to mark Tet, the Lunar New Year and he walked free a short time later.

 
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