Vietnamese Media Step Up Attacks on Priest

HANOI, Vietnam, MAR. 12, 2001 ( The Vietnamese media´s weeklong series of attacks on a Catholic priest who urged the United States to delay a trade pact may be a sign that the government plans to arrest him, observers speculate.

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Virtually all government-controlled newspapers had been running daily front-page articles for a week branding Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly a «traitor» and demanding «severe» punishment for him for slandering the status of religious freedom in Vietnam, the Associated Press said. Local TV and radio stations also have broadcast similar stories.

Father Ly, 54, joined exiled religious leaders in giving written testimony to a hearing in Washington, D.C., last month in which he urged the U.S. Congress to delay ratification of a bilateral trade agreement because of concerns over Vietnam´s human rights record.

Communist authorities placed him under administrative detention March 3 and barred him from leaving his commune in central Thua Thien Hue province.

Although Vietnam´s media on occasion run stories criticizing religious or political critics, the aggressiveness of the attacks leveled at Father Ly is unusual. That led some observers to say the media attacks were a precursor to his arrest.

The treatment of Father Ly is likely to capture the attention of those who criticize Vietnam for restrictions on religious and political expression. The country´s human rights record could be a significant barrier to ratification of the trade pact, which was signed last July after five years of negotiations, a senior U.S. official said recently.

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