Vietnam Grants Amnesty to Christian Prisoners

Commemorates End of War With U.S.

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HANOI, Vietnam, MAY 20, 2005 ( Vietnam released 7,750 prisoners, including two Christian prisoners of conscience, on the 30th anniversary of the country’s reunification.

Father Pham Ngoc Lien and Mennonite Le Thi Hong Lien were granted amnesty by President Tran Duc Luong Due, reported Amnesty International.

«The anticipated release of these two people, both in poor health, is long overdue and a welcome, positive step,» said Amnesty International.

«However, we once again call for the Vietnamese authorities to release all prisoners of conscience and to stop incarcerating political and religious activists for exercising their fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, association and religion.»

Father Pham Ngoc Lien, 63, is a member of the congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix. He had spent 18 years of a 20-year sentence in prison, and was among a group of 23 Catholic monks and priests arrested in May 1987 during raids on Thu Duc monastery, near Ho Chi Minh City.

The monks were accused of «conducting propaganda to oppose the socialist regime and undermine the policy of solidarity,» reported Amnesty International.

All have been released except for Brother Nguen Thien Phung, who will remain in Z30A prison, in Dong Nai province.

Le Thi Hong Lien is a 21-year-old Bible teacher with the Mennonite Christian Church in Vietnam, who was arrested in June 2004 for «resisting a person performing his official duty» during a demonstration, explained the international rights organization.

Vietnam has allowed some Buddhist monks to return to the country after 40 years of exile, but the state continues to exercise total and oppressive control on religions, reported AsiaNews.

Last September, in its 2004 report on religious freedom, the U.S. State Department included Vietnam among the countries that are «object of particular concern.»

There are 6 million Catholics among the 7 million Christians of Vietnam, whose population of close to 80 million includes 50 million Buddhists, and 4 million followers of the Cao Dai religion.

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