Washington, D.C. – Freedom Now is pleased to announce the release of democracy activist Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly from prison after nine years of wrongful imprisonment. Father Ly was serving an eight year sentence related to his affiliation with Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy organization. He was granted special amnesty by the president and released a few days before President Obama’s historic visit to Vietnam. Although Father Ly was released from prison he is still serving a five year sentence of house arrest.
“Father Ly’s release comes as a great relief given his lengthy incarceration and ill-health,” said Maran Turner, Executive Director of Freedom Now. “Yet, we remain unconvinced that this amnesty signals substantial progress on human rights in Vietnam. It is incredibly disappointing that Father Ly remains under house arrest, even after the Vietnamese government kept him in prison more than a year after his sentence expired. Not to mention that dozens of peaceful activists remain detained, including labor organizers Doan Huy Chuong and Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung. We call on the Government of Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.”
Father Ly’s release came after considerable pressure earlier this year from civil society, including a joint letter to President Obama from 19 NGOs, led by Freedom Now, urging him to raise the case during his recent visit to Vietnam as well as an article outlining Vietnam’s abysmal record on human rights.
Father Ly is a Roman Catholic priest and prominent advocate for democracy and religious freedom. He began his activist career in the 1970s and between 1977 and 2007 spent nearly 15 years in prison, some of it in a forced labor camp.
Father Ly’s most recent arrest came in February 2007 after he called for a boycott of single-party elections. He was charged with violating Article 88: spreading propaganda against the state. Two weeks after his arrest, Father Ly was put on trial where he was denied access to a lawyer of his choosing. During the trial, Father Ly shouted “down with the Communist Party of Vietnam!” The outburst resulted in a police officer covering Father Ly’s mouth and removing him from the courtroom. On March 30, 2007, after a four hour trial and twenty minutes of deliberation, Father Ly was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison followed by five years of house arrest.
Throughout his detention, Father Ly suffered from life-threatening medical problems, including three strokes and a brain tumor. Harsh prison conditions exacerbated his health problems, including extended periods of solitary confinement in extremely small cells. The Vietnamese government released him on medical parole on March 15, 2010. However, in spite of Father Ly’s ailments, authorities returned him to prison on July 25, 2011. He was scheduled to be released in March 2015, but authorities kept him in prison.
The international community has consistently criticized Father Ly’s incarceration. In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a unanimous resolution calling on Vietnam to end the priest’s imprisonment. Two years later, 37 U.S. Senators wrote a letter to President Triet asking him to facilitate Father Ly’s release. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Father Ly’s detention to be in violation of international law and called for his release in 2010.
Freedom Now has represented Father Ly as his international pro bono counsel since 2001, when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison after he submitted written testimony to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urging the rejection of a U.S.-Vietnam trade pact.