06/09/2015, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Vietnamese Catholic activist on hunger strike in protest against prison abuse

Maria Ta Phong Tan, who was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years for "anti-government propaganda", has refused food for three weeks. The woman denounces "mistreatment" of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in the Vietnamese prisons. Family members fear for her health. In the past, she was ridiculed by the other prisoners following her mother’s self-immolation.

Hanoi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Vietnamese Catholic activist Maria Ta Phong Tan, imprisoned for "anti-government propaganda" through his blog, has been on hunger strike for at least three weeks to protest against prison abuse.

The woman, a former police officer and known internationally for her work online, denounces what she calls "mistreatment" of political prisoners by the authorities, locked up in a detention center in the province of Thanh Hoa. In 2012 she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her political and social activity.

Mary’s sister, Ta Minh Tu, visited her in prison last June 3, and following the meeting made public her sister’s protest. "She wants to protest - she added - against the mistreatment of political prisoners by the prison authorities."

The other prisoners have cells with windows and are surrounded by barbed wire; hers, however, has no windows and is closed by a wall four meters high, "from where a thread of air passes " and temperatures are high, in particular this summer season and arriving at up to 40 degrees.

The prison police have also seized all her personal care products without giving any explanation. And they also limit her calls and communications with her family. Relatives have tried to convince the Catholic activist, who converted in adulthood, to stop the hunger strike, without any success.

Maria Ta Phong Tan is a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (Ijavn) and had a blog called Su That Va Cong Ly (Justice and Truth), promoting online campaigns to defend the territorial integrity of Vietnam in the South China Sea. The activist also launched initiatives in defense of human rights and democracy in the country.

She was arrested along with the founder of Ijavn, journalist Nguyen Van Hai better known as Dieu Cay, and other activists and bloggers. Back in May last year her family had reported threats and psychological intimidation which she was subjected to in prison by her own cellmates. The other prisoners also insulted Mary’s, Dang Thi Kim Lieng, who set herself on fire three years ago to protest against her daughter’s sentencing.

For 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 carried out a smear campaign in the Diocese of Vinh against the local bishop and faithful.

Repression also affects individuals, guilty of claiming the right to religious freedom and respect for citizens' civil rights.

According to the activist movement international Human Rights Watch (HRW) currently there are between 150 and 200 bloggers and activists detained in Vietnamese prisons, guilty of having wanted to exercise (and defend) basic human rights.

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