10/09/2014, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Vietnamese Catholic intellectual treated like "a slave" in prison

Jailed for his activism, Francis Dang Xuan Dieu has endured for months beatings and humiliation from other prisoners because he refuses to wear a uniform bearing the word 'criminal'. His brother launches and appeal to get him out of his "hell". Since he was incarcerated, the family has been able to see him only once.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Vietnamese engineer and Catholic intellectual Francis Dang Xuan Dieu imprisoned for his activism has been beaten, humiliated and treated like a "slave" in jail after refusing to wear a prisoner uniform, his brother and a former inmate said Wednesday

The authorities have prevented the family from meeting him, after the activist sent a letter to the police minister complaining about the mistreatment.

"They treated him very badly," Dieu's brother Dang Xuan Ha told RFA's Vietnamese Service. Ha is hoping that international pressure might force the authorities to bring him out of "hell."

Dieu said he is innocent so he did not wear the uniform bearing the word 'criminal," Ha explained.

At the request of family members, Catholics in Ho Chi Minh City - in particular the Redemptorist Fathers -in the past promoted prayers and solidarity campaigns for his release.

Dieu was arrested in July 2011 and sentenced in 2013 to 13 years in prison, plus five years of house arrest.

Along with other Christians, he was tried by the Provincial Court in Nghe An for trying to "overthrow the government of the people" and violating "Article 79 of the Penal Code."

In the past, Francis Dang Xuan Dieu - from the diocese of Vinh and a member of the Viet Tan group, branded as illegal by Hanoi - led protests by Vietnamese nationalists against Beijing's "imperialist" policy in the South China Sea.

He also fought for the schooling of children, particularly the poor, and against the intensive exploitation of bauxite mines in the Central Highlands.

The Catholic intellectual also promoted awareness campaigns for the release of political prisoner Cù Huy Hà Vũ, Professor Pham Minh Hoàng and other prisoners jailed for crimes of opinion.

Since his incarceration, prison authorities have allowed Dieu's family to visit him only once.

Conversely, and prison staff humiliated him for several months last year by letting other prisoners beat him and forcing him to serve as a "slave."

Dieu was also denied access to a fan or clean drinking water.

Prison authorities forced him to pose as a "model" for other prisoners who were asked to paint him as a "half-human/half-beast figure. For this reason, he went on a hunger strike, calling for a more "humane" prison system.

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.

In 2013 alone, Hanoi arrested dozens of activists for crimes "against the state", according to a rule that human rights groups have branded as "generic" and "vague".

With more than six million followers, Catholicism is Vietnam's second largest religion in importance after Buddhism.

Catholics and the authorities have been at loggerheads for a while, in most cases for issues related to land ownership or Church properties that the government wants to seize.

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