AP, Apr. 11, 2003
HANOI, Vietnam, April 11 — Vietnam is harshly cracking down on religious dissidents and their family members by using vague laws to charge them with spying, which carries a possible death penalty, Amnesty International said Friday.
In a report, the London-based human rights group focused on charges brought against the niece and nephews of Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest sentenced to 15 years in jail in October 2001 for advocating religious freedom.
In January, state-controlled media reported that the three siblings — Nguyen Vu Viet, 28, his brother Nguyen Truc Cuong, 36, and sister Nguyen Thi Hoa, 44 — had been charged with spying for and providing anti-government information to a U.S.-based religious group and radio program.
”Branding the three accused as ‘spies,’ a charge which can carry the death penalty according to the Vietnamese criminal code, is the misuse of loosely worded national security legislation to stifle the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and association,” the Amnesty International report said.
”Only in the last couple years have they started charging people again with espionage,” said Daniel Alberman, a researcher who prepared the report. ”It’s a worrying sign that they’re going very hard on these people.”
Vietnamese officials did not respond to a request seeking comment Friday.
Ly, who had a small parish in central Hue, had given written testimony to a U.S. government committee urging the U.S. Congress to delay ratification of a bilateral trade agreement until Vietnam eased restrictions on religion.
His statements outraged the Vietnamese government, which denounced him as a traitor.
Rights groups and the U.S. State Department routinely accuse Hanoi of violating human rights and religious freedoms. Vietnam maintains that no one is arrested on religious or political grounds, only for breaking the law.