02/04/2014, 00.00
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Vinh: crowd greets Chu Manh Son, a young Catholic released from prison

The prisoner of conscience served in full a 30-month prison sentence for "propaganda against the state". He was a student and an active member of Christian organisations. Upon his release, the community greeted him with warmth and emotion. Now he will spend another year under house arrest.

Vinh (AsiaNews/EDA) - The Catholic community of Vinh, northern Vietnam, is celebrating the release of Chu Manh Son, a prisoner of conscience who served in full his 30-month prison sentence for breaking Article 88 of the Penal Code.

According to the Code, anyone who promotes "propaganda against the state" is punishable. In reality, it used (and abused) by the authorities to suppress dissent and imprison activists and political opponents.

The young Catholic left his cell on Sunday afternoon and returned home where he was "warmly" welcomed by family, friends and members of the local Christian community.

Local Catholic sources added that a "large crowd" had gathered for the event. Touched by the situation, it included many parishioners from Duc Lân, Diocese of Vinh in Nghe An province, and Catholic militants from all over the province as well as family members.

Before his arrest, Chu Manh Son, 25, studied medicine at Nghe An University and was an active member of the John Paul II Pro-Life Movement. He was also engaged in the struggle for justice and truth, activities deemed "anti-government propaganda" by the authorities.

He was part of a group of 17 Catholics in the Dioceses of Vinh and Thanh Hoa who were arrested by security officials - without a warrant - between the end of June 2011 and December of the same year.

Son was arrested on August 3 and sentenced to 30 months in prison on 26 September 2012, which he served in Phu Son Prison, Thai Nguyen province (northern Vietnam).

Now he will spend another year under house arrest, atched by the authorities and deprived of certain fundamental freedoms.

What happened to him is part of a harsh government campaign that has been underway for quite some time against dissidents, bloggers, religious leaders (including Buddhists), Catholic activists as well as entire communities. Which is what happened last year in the Diocese of Vinh, when media and the authorities promoted a smear campaign and targeted attacks against bishop and faithful.

As evinced in this case, repression strikes individuals who are guilty of demanding the right of religious freedom and respect for citizens' civil rights.

Out of Vietnam's 87 million people, 48 per cent are Buddhists, more than 7 per cent are Catholics, 5.6 per cent follow syncretistic religions and 20 per cent are atheist.

As a small, albeit significant minority, the Christian community is particularly active in education, health and social affairs.

In recent years, religious freedom has steadily eroded in Vietnam. Under Decree 92, more controls and restrictions have been imposed on religious practice, increasingly subjected to the whims of the Communist Party and the one-party state.

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