Hanoi (AsiaNews) On the 30th anniversary of the end of the 'American War', Vietnam released more than 7,750 prisoners, including a young Mennonite woman, Le Thi Hong Lien, the Prison Management Department of the Ministry of Public Security said late last night.
No news however of Pham Ngoc Lien, a priest whose name was on the list of prisoners to be released under the amnesty granted by Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong Due on the 30th anniversary of the country's reunification on April 30, 1975.
Ms Le Thi Hong Lien's release occurred on April 28, two months before she completed her sentence. She is a 21-year-old bible teacher with the Mennonite Christian Church who was arrested in June 2004 with other members of her community and sentenced on November 12 to 12 months in jail for "resisting a person performing official duty" during a demonstration. Prior to her arrest, she had taken part in a number of demonstrations against the government's repressive religious policies.
Christian human rights groups reported that Ms Le suffered severe abuse while in detention, leading to a complete mental and physical breakdown which landed her in the Bien Hoa Mental Hospital.
According to the Mennonite Church the young woman's release was made possible by pressures put on the government "by human rights organisations, international media, Christian faithful and foreign governments". Among the many groups, Amnesty International (AI) played a crucial role.
AI is grateful for the Christians' release both of whom are in ill health but calls on the "the Vietnamese authorities to release all prisoners of conscience and to stop incarcerating political and religious activists for exercising their fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, association and religion".
For the London-based organisation, "[u]nless substantive changes are made to the law, all Vietnamese people remain at risk of arrest simply for peacefully expressing their political and religious beliefs."
Last September, the US State Department in its 2004 report on religious freedom singled out Vietnam as a "country of particular concern".
Pham Ngoc Lien, 63, a member of the Congregation of the Mother of Coredemptrix (CMC), is also on the list of prisoners of conscience the government is scheduled to release under the amnesty, but there is no news about his fate.
He was one of a group of 23 Roman Catholic monks and priests arrested in May 1987 at the Thu Duc Monastery near Ho Chi Minh City. They were guilty of holding training courses and distributing religious books without government permission.
Father Pham was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment plus five years house arrest on release under national security legislation for "conducting propaganda to oppose the socialist regime and undermine the policy of solidarity".
The other 22 monks and priests received sentences that ranged from 4 years to life in prison. They were all released, except for Nguyen Thien Phung (Huan) who is still in jail.