BANGKOK—A Catholic priest jailed for urging authorities to allow religious freedom in Vietnam has suffered a stroke in prison and is now partially paralyzed, according to relatives.
Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, 63, suffered a stroke early Sunday and was transferred to Police Hospital 198 in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, for medical treatment.
An officer who identified himself as Maj. Nam, who was supervising Ly in prison, called the priest’s relatives to inform them about his health, family members said.
A relative surnamed Hieu said the right half of Ly’s body had been paralyzed following the stroke, but that the priest was conscious and recuperating at the hospital.
Hoang, Ly’s nephew, was permitted to visit the hospital and described his current condition.
“He’s conscious and able to talk,” Hoang said, adding that while Ly had no paralysis in his mouth, he had extremely limited motion in his right extremities.
“He can raise his leg 20 cm off the bed, and a similar amount with his arm, so there’s been improvement,” he said.
A map displays Police Hospital 198 in Hanoi. Credit RFA
Hoang said his uncle was receiving daily IV drips, shots, and medication and that the head physician at the hospital’s coronary department had personally been checking on his progress.
“He has been well treated. He stays in a room under the supervision of five policemen,” Hoang said.
He added that his uncle was in a positive mood and wanted to thank his caretakers.
Ly’s work as a pro-democracy activist and advocate for religious freedom in Vietnam has seen the priest jailed for a total of nearly 20 years since 1970.
Years in jail
He spent a year in prison from 1977-78, and an additional nine years from 1983-92, for what Vietnamese authorities deemed “opposing the revolution and destroying the people's unity.”
In 2001, Ly was arrested at his church and accused of abusing conditions of his probation, leading to a 15-year prison sentence that was later commuted.
He was released in 2004 but placed under house arrest at the Archdiocese of Hue city in central Vietnam.
In April 2006, Ly joined a group of writers known as Bloc 8406 in signing the “Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy in Vietnam” and later began publishing an online magazine called Free Speech.
In September that year he helped establish the Vietnam Progressive Party.
But in February 2007, police raided the offices of the Hue Archdiocese and arrested Father Ly.
As a member of Bloc 8406, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for trying to organize a boycott of upcoming elections.
During his trial, which was attended by foreign press, Ly began to shout “down with communism” but—in a televised image that became an icon for advocates of free expression—was silenced by a security officer who covered Ly’s mouth with his hand.
The image became widely circulated and endures as a reminder of Hanoi’s continued intolerance of free speech in Vietnam.
In July, 37 U.S. senators signed a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding the priest’s release and urging the State Department to re-designate Vietnam a Country of Particular Concern, citing violations of human rights and religious freedom.
Original reporting by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Vietnamese service director: Khanh Nguyen. Translated by Hanh Seide. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.