Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - Relatives of Catholic intellectual and activist Francis Jang Xuan Dieu, who is held as a political prisoner in a Vietnamese prison, turned to the Redemptorist Fathers in Ho Chi Minh City for help and support in their fight to secure his release.
He was arrested in July 2011 and sentenced to 13 years in prison, plus five years under supervision. Together with other Christians, he was tried by the Nghe An Provincial Court for trying to "overthrow the government of the people" and violating "Art. 79 of the Penal Code."
Dieu has been held in the K3 barrack of Camp N. 5 in Yên Dinh, Thanh Hoa province. On 11 June, his relatives tried to meet him, but the prison guards turned them away. Hence, he is now on a hunger strike and his health is deteriorating very rapidly.
In the past, Dieu - from the Diocese of Vinh - led protests by Vietnamese nationalists against Beijing's "imperialist" policy in the South China Sea. He also fought long for children's education, especially the poor, and against intensive bauxite mining in the country's Central Highlands.
The Catholic intellectual has also promoted awareness campaigns for the release of political prisoner Cù Huy Ha Vu, Prof Pham Minh Hoàng and other people held in Vietnamese prisons for crimes of opinion.
On 16 May, Dieu's elder brother Ha, sent a letter on behalf of the whole family to the Bishop of Vinh, Mgr Nguyễn Thái Hop, asking for help in the cause of the political prisoner. However, the diocese did not reply. For this reason, a few weeks later, the family turned to the Redemptorists of Saigon, speaking to the Provincial Superior Fr Vincent Pham Trung Thanh and other priests of the community.
In court, the Catholic activist (pictured) claimed his innocence. "I am not guilty," he said. "I just wanted to show my patriotism." He added that he took part in "social activities" to help the poor, especially children, and joined demonstrations against Chinese expansionism. "I am a Catholic Vietnamese," he explained, "and I have always prayed for peace and justice in Vietnam."
Having carefully listened to the story, the Redemptorist priests expressed admiration and sympathy to the family for the courage shown by their relative. Provincial Superior Fr Vincent Pham Trung Than said he felt "shaken" by the affair and by the "real pain" of family members, whose suffering he shares.
"Every month we pray for prisoners of conscience, for peace and justice in Vietnam," he added, praising Dieu's relatives for "fighting for truth, justice, and democracy in our country."
for several years, the government has been conducting a harsh campaign against dissidents, bloggers, religious leaders (including Buddhists), Catholic activists and entire communities, like last year in the diocese of Vinh, where media and government were involved in a smear campaign against the local bishop and faithful.
The crackdown involves individuals whose only guilt is that of claiming the right to religious freedom and respect for citizens' civil rights. In 2013 alone, the authorities arrested dozens of activists for crimes "against the state" based on rules that human rights groups have described as "generic" and "vague".