» 10/03/2014, 00.00
Vietnam: Catholic activist Dau Van Duong free after three years in prison and beatings
He was convicted in 2012 for "propaganda against the state". He was severely beaten in his cell, risking death. The authorities confiscated his Bible, returning it only after a prolonged hunger strike. "I'm lucky to be alive," he says, and promises to continue to fight against injustice.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The Vietnamese government has
released the 26 year old Catholic activist Antonie Dau Van Duong, after more
than three years in prison where he risked death from repeated beatings, humiliation
and abuse at the hands of prison guards.
The guards even confiscated his Bible in an attempt
to undermine his faith. He was part of a group of four Christians, charged
and convicted in May 2012 for "propaganda against the state" following
the distribution of pro-democracy leaflets. The four were punished according to
the infamous Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, a provision which -
according to human rights organizations - is often used to arrest bloggers,
advocates and critics of the communist leadership and the state.
The judges sentenced him to three years and six months
in prison; However, the authorities ordered his release and 18 additional
months of probation. Interviewed by Radio
Free Asia (RFA) shortly after returning home to Nam Dan, Nghe An province, Duong
said he is "lucky because I'm still alive," after having suffered terrible
violence in the Nghi Kim detention center.
The guards, he said, "allowed other inmates to beat me, two did from 10 pm
to 4 am." I thank God, he adds, "that I'm still standing here today. I
might have died at that time. My body hurt terribly, but I kept praying and
Later, Duong was
transferred to Prison No. 5 in neighboring Thanh Hoa province, where he served
the remainder of his jail term. Duong said he was placed in a cell along with
"drug dealers, robbers and murderers", although for short
periods he spent time with other political prisoners. The prison guards seized his
Bible, which was returned to him only after a prolonged hunger strike.
At the time of his sentencing, human rights groups and international
organizations termed the trial a shameful farce and stated he had been
convicted "without even a shred of evidence." As members of the Catholic community
in Vinh, the four had participated in volunteer activities including donating
blood, helping orphans and natural disaster victims, and encouraging women not
to have abortions.
Duong says that prison authorities said they had decided
to release him, claiming he had been effectively "re-educated" while serving
his sentence."In fact, I was not re-educated at all," he states promising to fight against injustice, along with
other Catholic activists.
For the past several
years, Vietnam has seen a harsh campaign by the government against dissidents,
bloggers, religious leaders (including Buddhists), Catholic activists or entire
communities. Last year for example, media and government conducted a smear
campaign in the Diocese of Vinh targeting the local bishop and faithful.
The government's crackdown
has also touched people whose only guilt is that of claiming the right to
religious freedom and respect for citizens' civil rights.
In 2013 alone, Vietnamese
authorities arrested dozens of activists for crimes "against the
state," based on a rule that human rights groups have branded as too
"generic" and "vague".
With more than six million followers, Catholicism
is the second largest religion in the country, after Buddhism. The community
has been at loggerheads with Hanoi, in most cases over issues related to land
ownership or ecclesiastical goods that the government wants to seize.
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