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Vietnam: Catholic prisoner of conscience released after 18 years' imprisonment

Reverend Pham Ngoc Lien (Tri), of the Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix (CMC), and Le Thi Hong Lien, a young member of the Mennonite Christian Church, were released on 28 April 2005, under a prisoner amnesty to mark the 30-year anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.

Reverend Pham Ngoc Lien (Tri), 63, had spent 18 years in prison after being sentenced to 20 years plus five years’ house arrest, having been charged with 'conducting propaganda to oppose the socialist regime and undermine the policy of solidarity' under national security legislation.

During his imprisonment he was reportedly suffering from bad health due to daily hard labour, an inadequate diet and poor medical care.

The 63-year-old was among a group of 23 Roman Catholic monks and priests arrested in May 1987 during raids on Thu Duc monastery, near Ho Chi Minh City, for holding training courses and distributing religious books without government permission. Amnesty International had been campaigning for his release since 1996.

All except one of those arrested with Reverend Pham Ngoc Lien (Tri) have now been released.

His fellow church member, Brother Nguyen Thien Phung (Huan), who was also sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, remains detained in Z30A prison, Xuan Loc, Dong Nai province.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'We obviously welcome the long overdue release of these two Christians, but it was a disgrace that they were ever imprisoned in the first place.

'We now need to see the Vietnamese authorities releasing all prisoners of conscience and ending its persecution of religious and political groups once and for all.'

Also released with Reverend Pham Ngoc Lien on 28 April was Le Thi Hong Lien, a 21-year-old teacher, who had been held at the prison wing of Bien Hoa Mental Hospital, where she was being treated for severe mental illness. During her 11-month imprisonment she reportedly suffered beatings and abuse, resulting in a serious deterioration in her physical and mental health.

Le Thi Hong Lien was arrested in June 2004 following her attendance at a number of demonstrations against governmental policies on religion. She was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment on charges of 'resisting a person performing official duty'.

Amnesty International considered her a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of her fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association and campaigned for her release.

As a non-state sanctioned religious organisation, members of the Mennonite Church have been subject to imprisonment, house arrest and harassment in Vietnam for many years.

Since the releases, it was reported on 1 May that Le Thi Hong Lien and other Mennonites were detained for three hours’ questioning by the police after attending a Bible study meeting at the home of the imprisoned Mennonite pastor and human rights activist, Nguyen Hong Quang. Nguyen Hong Quang’s wife is maintaining the home as a house church while her husband is in prison.

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