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Vietnam Pastor and ‘Cyber Dissident’ Released From Jail

By BosNewsLife News Center

9/1/2006 Vietnam (BosNEwsLife) Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told BosNewsLife that Ma Van Bay, a Vietnamese church leader from the Hmong ethnic minority, is due to be released by September 2 when the National Day will be held and over 5,300 prisoners will be set free.

“Ma Van Bay’s case has been the subject of widespread international pressure, particularly during recent months. His release, which closely follows the visit to Vietnam of John Hanford, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, comes at a crucial juncture in Vietnamese relations with the USA ,” CSW said.

” Vietnam is seeking both its removal from the American list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ for religious freedom violations, and the establishment of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the US , one of the final obstacles before its highly sought-after ascendancy to the World Trade Organization,” the group added.

CONTROVERSIAL CHARGE

Ma Van Bay was reportedly initially imprisoned in 1995 in Ha Giang Province, on what CSW called “a poorly substantiated charge.” Apparently fearing a sentence of up to twelve years as stated in his indictment papers, he escaped from prison after six months, and fled with his wife to Vietnam ‘s Central Highlands.

In November 2003, he was re-arrested and “summoned under a false allegation to the local police station, where Ha Giang police were present to arrest him,” said CSW, which has investigated the case. “In April 2004, he was convicted of undermining Vietnam ‘s national unity, and his sentence was doubled as a consequence of his escape,” amid a crackdown on church leaders, the group claimed.

“We are delighted to hear about the planned release of Ma Van Bay, and sincerely hope that he is allowed to freely reintegrate into his church community without difficulties,” said CSW Advocacy Director Tina Lambert. However, “Vietnamese authorities continue to suppress Christian activities to a great extent, particularly among the Hmong and other ethnic minorities,” she cautioned.

Ma Van Bay’s scheduled release coincides with that of well-known ‘cyber-dissident’ Pham Hong Son, CSW and Amnesty International (AI) told BosNewsLife. “Prisoner of conscience Dr Pham Hong Son was released today [Thursday August 31] from jail” ahead of Vietnam’s National Day, AI said, adding that he “will remain under house arrest” for up to three years.

“While it is good news for Dr Pham Hong Sen” was released from jail, “he now faces three years under house arrest and we still consider him a prisoner of conscience,” said Janice Beanland, South East Asia Campaigner at AI.