Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Redemptorist Fr Joseph Le Quang Uy could be arrested and tried in on the basis of Article 88 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code. If found guilty the Catholic priest could get from 3 to 20 years in prison or even the death penalty for conducting propaganda against the state and plotting to overthrow the Communist regime.
On Tuesday the People's Public Security Newspaper and other state-run media reported that Fr Joseph Le Quang Uy had “bent his head admitting that he had commit crimes against people and the government.”
The newspaper, which is run by Vietnam’s police, went on to state that the day before “at the headquarter of the Customs Office at Tan Son Nhat airport, Mr. Le Quang Uy signed a statement admitting that had committed offenses against the [Publishing] law.”
Customs officials said they discovered in his laptop many files and emails with “bad content” that could damage national unity and the development of the country, distort Vietnam history, and the socio-economic policies of the government.
Since February, state-owned media have repeatedly accused Fr. Joseph Le of “conducting propaganda against the state” and “plotting to overthrow the communist regime” calling for his “immediate and severe punishment.”
The clergyman, who has been a champion of the defence of life, is an outspoken critic of bauxite mining in the Central Highlands.
Mining in the area is done by Chinese companies and has been criticised by scientists and environmentalists alike for the irreversible damages it has caused to the natural environment.
Even General Võ Nguyên Giáp, one of Vietnam’s mythical figures, has unexpectedly come out against bauxite mining.
Under his command Vietnam beat the French and the Americans and he served as Defence minister in post-unification Vietnam.
He has been particularly concerned by China’s invasive presence in the country.
Charges against Father Uy follow his detention at Tan Son Nhat Airport on 6 June. On that occasion his laptop was seized and he was held for a considerable period of time.
He has denied all charges, saying that police falsified the statement he had to sign.
Most of what was found in his laptop included his sermons and some articles that reflect his views on bauxite mining in the Highlands which he views as not in the interests of the nation.
For his part Benedict XVI in welcoming Vietnam’s bishops for their quinquennial a limina visit, told the prelates that “you know that a healthy collaboration between the Church and the political community is possible. With this in mind the Church urges all its members to loyally get involved in building a just, united and fair society. [The Church] has no intention of taking the place of those who are in charge of government; all it wants to do is play its rightful role, in a spirit of dialogue and collaboration, in the life of the nation and in the service of the whole people.”
Father Uy has defended his right to peacefully exercise his freedom of expression.
By contrast, Vietnamese authorities in recent years have arrested at least 30 dissidents, including some lawyers.