HANOI, VIETNAM — Vietnamese security forces have detained an influential elderly Catholic priest and other key religious and political activists as part of a major crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in the Communist-run nation, dissidents told BosNewsLife Monday, February 19.
The 86-year-old Catholic Priest Chan Tin, who is editor-in-chief of Tu Do Ngon Luan or ’Freedom of Speech’ Magazine, was detained at the Dong Chua Cuu The Church or ’Savior Jesus Christ Church’ in Saigon, said the ’International Movement for Democracy and Human Rights in Vietnam’ (IMDHR) which comprises dissidents in Vietnam and Vietnamese exiles.
It was not immediately clear what charges had been filed against the priest. News of the arrest came as another priest and leaders of the anti-government Vietnam Progression Party (VPP) remained in police custody Monday, February 19, BosNewsLife established.
"Father Nguyen Van Ly and the VPP leadership, President Nguyen Phong, Founder Nguyen Binh Thanh and Secretary General Hoang Thi Anh Dao have been arrested," IMDHR spokesman Viet Si told BosNewsLife. "They have been currently in police custody."
In a letter to the United States Embassy in Hanoi seen by BosNewsLife, representatives of the IMDHR said they also discovered that Vietnamese authorities "dispatched hundreds of uniformed and undercover police to surround and set up checkpoints at the Priests Community Home at Archdiocese of Hue in City of Hue."
Police checkpoints were also seen near the residence "of prominent religious dissident Father Phan Van Loi," the group added. There were also reports Monday, February 19 of attacks against predominantly Christian Degar Montagnards in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
Representatives told BosNewsLife that security forces attacked a Degar Montagnard woman because her sister escaped to Combodia while her husband is a political prisoner. "January 22...four security police [officers] arrived in a jeep at the village of Buon Le Da in Dak Lak province [where] they went to the house of H’Hlung Nie, 33," said the advocacy group Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI).
"They threatened, interrogated and beat her [because] her sister H’Blung Nie had previously escaped to Cambodia [while] her husband, Y-Phiar Adrong, is a political prisoner," MFI told BosNewsLife in a statement.
Y’Phiar Adrong, 35, was detained October 26, 2005 for participating in what MFI described as "peaceful demonstrations" of Degar Montagnards in February 2001 and during Easter of 2004. Y’Phiar Adrong was transferred to the prison facility in the city of Buonmathuot" before being sentenced to five years imprisonment in June of 2006.
MFI said it was concerned about the health of Y’Phiar Adrong because of the torture he allegedly underwent. "He has serious internal health problems due to repeated torture that he suffered whilst in prison. His family is extremely worried about his health and fear he will not live long," the group claimed.
Like fellow believers and pro-democracy activists elsewhere in Vietnam, Degar Montagnards ave been reportedly faced government resistance because of their Christian faith and alleged support to American forces during the Vietnam war. Human rights watchers also say that the Communist government sees Christianity as a Western, American religion, and a threat to its powerbase. Viet Si said the arrests and attacks have oveshadowed the traditional Vietnamese New Year celebrations.
Vietnam’s government has consistently denied human rights abuses. It also claims that ietnam and the Vatican are currently establishing closer ties. The United States removed ietnam of its list of ’Countries of Particular Concern’ regarding religious rights violations. That move was criticized by MFI as well as other human rights watchdogs and issidents.