Authorities in Vietnam arrested Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest and outspoken dissident, and brought him to prison Monday to complete a sentence that had been suspended due to health issues, according to a fellow member of the clergy.
“We heard that at 2:30 p.m. police cars and an ambulance arrived at Nha Chung to arrest Priest Ly, ending one year and four months of temporary release,” said Father Phan Van Loi from Ly’s hometown of Hue in central Vietnam.
The 63-year-old Ly, who suffers from a brain tumor, had been living under house arrest at the Nha Chung home for retired priests in Hue after being granted a year-long medical parole from jail in March 2010.
Before his parole expired, a government spokeswoman had said that Ly would be returned to prison if he was deemed healthy. There was no explanation for the four-month lapse.
He was sentenced in 2007 to eight years in jail followed by five years of house arrest for spreading "propaganda" against the state.
A founding member of Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy movement, Ly was considered a thorn in the side of the ruling Communist Party, as he advocated greater human rights in the one-party state.
His trial grabbed world headlines as he tried in court to read out a poem criticizing Vietnam's communist authorities and was muzzled by police.
According to Loi, police requested that Father Le Quang Vien, who is in charge of the Nha Chung home, sign an acknowledgment that Ly was being returned to prison following his convalescence.
“He signed it, but he wrote clearly that Father Ly had not recovered yet. [The police and Father Vien] had some kind of argument, but finally they let him submit that note,” Loi said.
Ly suffered three strokes in 2009 that left him partially paralyzed, and Western governments had demanded repeatedly that he be freed.
Father Ly had expressed concern over his health following the discovery of the brain tumor.
“[After] the third [stroke], they sent me to a police hospital in Hanoi. They found out that two of the arteries in my neck were blocked, but more seriously, they found that I have a tumor measuring about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) in my brain on the left side,” Ly said last year.
“They think the tumor may be affecting my nerves, causing the right side of my body to become paralyzed,” he said.
Ly had also protested against the temporary suspension of his sentence at that time.
“If I accept the term ‘temporary suspension,’ it suggests that I accept the sentence they gave me. I don’t accept even a ‘permanent suspension’ because this also means I accept the sentence,” he said.
“I think the sentence they gave me was against international conventions and uncivilized.”
Icon of suppression
Ly has spent some 16 years in prison over the last 30 years for advocating greater human rights.
His release from prison last year came after a group of 37 U.S. senators wrote to Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triet, calling for his freedom.
Ly had hit out at the Vietnamese government’s intolerance of political dissent.
“Roughly 160 years ago, Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital in London—he wasn’t arrested and he finished both works,” Ly said.
“Nowadays, when Vietnamese people do the same things, they get arrested. This proves that Vietnam’s laws are even more backward than laws back then, 160 years ago in London.”
Amnesty International has called Ly a prisoner of conscience who was arrested solely for the peaceful expression of his beliefs.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.