Arrested in 2011, Hòa was an active member of the Diocese of Vinh and worked with a news agency run by Redemptorist fathers. For the regime, he is part of a group of young Catholics and Protestants engaged in activities “aimed at overthrowing the people’s government”. The prisoner of conscience still has five years to serve in prison followed by as many under house arrest.
Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Relatives, friends and supporters of 45-year-old Hồ Đức Hòa (picture 1), a Catholic activist for human rights and religious freedom, have renewed their call for his release.
The prisoner of conscience suffers from many health problems but, in the last three months, prison authorities have denied him medical assistance, this according to his sister, Hồ Thi Luy.
Hòa is one of 14 activists from the Vinh area, in the north-central province of Nghệ An, arrested by the authorities between August and December 2011, during a campaign of repression against young Catholic and Protestant activists. All are accused of engaging in activities “aimed at overthrowing the people’s government”.
Their trial took place behind closed doors in the Nghệ An provincial court, on 8-9 January 2013. Anne Nguyễn Đặng Minh Mẫn (picture 2), who was part of the group, was released from prison on 2 August.
At the time of his arrest, Hòa was an active member of the Diocese of Vinh and worked with the Vietnam Redemptorist News, an independent news agency run by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorist Fathers) in Ho Chi Minh City.
He was also involved in getting scholarships to poor students and in initiatives to help the marginalised and disabled.
The activist was arrested at the airport along with Nguyễn Văn Oai and Đặng Xuân Diệu, as he returned from a trip.
Hòa was sentenced to 13 years in prison, plus five years of house arrest after release. At present, he is serving his time in Nam Ha prison (Hà Nam province).
Two days ago, his sister Hồ Thi Luy told RFA that she visited him over the week-end. “He seemed cheerful, but he said little and never laughed – I can see his health had seriously declined,” she said.
During the visit, Luy also read a letter Hòa sent to the family, dated July 25, in which he mentions suffering from a number of ailments – stomach and abdominal pain, high blood pressure, numbness, and haemorrhoids – for the past eight years, but had hidden it from them.
Additionally, the letter said that he had developed symptoms that included liver and spinal pain, weakness in his right arm, and general fatigue since the beginning of the year.
Hòa writes that whilst a prison doctor had given him a preliminary examination, he had yet to receive a diagnosis, and had been refused medical treatment for the past three months, despite repeated requests.
Since 2016, the Vietnamese government has pursued a campaign against dissent, targeting activists and bloggers.
On a daily basis, opponents of the regime are harassed, intimidated, placed under surveillance and hauled in for questioning by police. They are often subjected to long periods of pre-trial detention, without access to lawyers or family members.
According to a report released on 13 May 2019 by Amnesty International, Vietnam is currently holding about 128 prisoners of conscience.
Nguyễn Kim Binh of the Vietnam Human Rights Network said last December that the country's prisons hold more than 200 political prisoners.