After leaving Ba Sao prison (northern Vietnam) at 4 am yesterday, the clergyman arrived around 5 pm at the Bishop’s Residence in Hue, where he is incardinated. Family and fellow priests (pictured) were there to welcome him. Between release and arrival, he spent three hours at a police station, where he was warned not to engage in anti-government activities during his temporary freedom.
When Fr van Ly was convicted in 2007, the Vietnamese government was criticised by human rights organisations as well as the governments of the United States and the European Union. His family and the archdiocese of Hue pleaded for his freedom.
“This is not liberation,” Nguyen Van Ly, 62, told reporters. “The authorities temporarily suspended my prison sentence so that I can take care of myself. After my medical treatment I will return to prison,” he said.
The clergyman was a founding member of ‘Bloc 84-06’, a pro-democracy movement that seeks to end Vietnam’s one-party state.
In recent years, he has suffered a number of strokes that left him partially paralysed. He told journalists that he was recently diagnosed as having a two-and-half centimetre brain tumour.
“I’m not satisfied with what they call the temporary suspension of my sentence because if I accept the term ‘temporary suspension’, it suggests that I accept the sentence they gave me. I don’t accept even a ‘permanent suspension’ because this also means I accept the sentence,” Ly said.
Ultimately, he said he could never accept the eight-year sentence; he refuses the ‘criminal’ label pinned on him by the authorities. Instead, he views himself as a “prisoner of war”.
Between 1977 and 2004, he spent 14 years in prison for his action in favour of religious freedom and human rights in the Communist nation.
According to some observers, the authorities are cracking down on pro-democracy groups, Churches and minorities because of hard-line elements in the Communist Party.