Vietnamese Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, a long-time critic of Vietnam’s one-party communist state, is recovering from a recent heart attack but remains in poor health at his home in Hue, according to his nephew, who lives in Florida.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Monday, Ly’s nephew Nguyen Van Viet—also a Catholic priest—said that Ly suffered a heart attack on Feb. 26 in Hue, where he has lived since his 2016 release from prison in advance of a state visit to Vietnam by then U.S. President Barack Obama.
“He is recovering now, and he can eat food, but his health is not good,” the younger man said.
Though in poor health, Ly writes stories each week calling on the people of Vietnam to resist political and territorial encroachment by the country’s powerful northern neighbor China, Nguyen said.
Many Vietnamese believe their government has failed to take a strong stand on the issue of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea, also claimed in places by Vietnam, because it is wary of economic repercussions from China as well as the potential for protests within Vietnam itself.
“Father Ly told me that it is his responsibility to do this to help save the country from the communists, and he said he will do this for the rest of his life,” he said.
Jailed many times
Nguyen Van Ly’s latest stint in jail was not his first.
Ly 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, and in 2004 he was 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 a “Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy in Vietnam,” later publishing an online magazine called Free Speech and in September helping to establish the Vietnam Progressive Party, leading to his re-arrest.
Nguyen Van Ly was tried in 2007 and convicted on charges of conducting “propaganda against the state” and sentenced to eight years in prison and five years on probation for violating Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Silenced in court
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 was widely circulated and endures as a reminder of Hanoi’s continued intolerance of free speech in Vietnam.
Authorities in Vietnam have long repressed the Catholic Church in the one-party state and subjected it to forced evictions, land grabs, and physical attacks on priests and their followers, sources say.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huynh Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.