Nguyen Thien Phung
Prisoner of Conscience
The following good news
is from Amnesty International.
Thien Phung (Huan) was released on 1 September after spending 18 years
in prison in Viet Nam. He was among a group of 23 Roman Catholic monks
and priests arrested in May 1987 for holding training courses and
distributing religious books without government permission during raids
on Thu Duc monastery, near Ho Chi Minh City."
The above picture is
Brother Nguyen Thien Phung (Huan) as a young man. He is now 54 years
old and has been imprisoned for the last 18 years by the Socialist
Republic of Vietnam. He is a member of the Congregation of the Mother
AI Group 22
(Pasadena/Caltech) began working on his case in the summer of 2005. You
can scroll down for more information about his case and about religious
freedom in Vietnam.
Group 22 Home Page
|Brother Nguyen Thien Phung (Huan), 54 years
old, is a member of the Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix (CMC)
who has been imprisoned for the last 18 years. He was among a group of
23 Roman Catholic monks and priests arrested in May 1987 for holding
training courses and distributing religious books without government
permission during raids on Thu Duc monastery, near Ho Chi Minh City.
In October 1987 he was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment plus five
years' house arrest on release for "conducting propaganda to oppose the
socialist regime and undermining the policy of solidarity" under
broadly defined national security legislation. His sentence was upheld
by the Appeal Court on 7 November 1988. The other 22 monks arrested
were also sentenced to between four years and life imprisonment; all
have now been released except for Brother Nguyen Thien Phung (Huan).
Brother Nguyen Thien Phung (Huan) is detained at prison camp Z30A, Xuan
Loc, Dong Nai province, where conditions are harsh, with an inadequate
provision of medical treatment and a poor diet.
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional
release of Brother Nguyen Thien Phung (Huan) as a prisoner of
conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercizing his right to
freedom of religion and expression by his activities as a member of the
Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix.
Brother Nguyen Thien Phung (Huan) was brought to trial in October 1987
along with 22 other members of the CMC. Before the trial at least two
articles were published in the official media describing the arrest and
presumed guilt of the members of the CMC.
On 4 November 1987 the state-controlled Viet Nam News Agency broadcast
a report about the trial of the 23 defendants which began on 27 October
and lasted for four days. The report describes how security forces,
after leading a series of searches from 15 to 20 May 1987, discovered
and arrested members belonging to an "anti revolutionary organization"
and seized "many books and documents containing distortions of the
socialist system". It also accused the CMC of running training courses
for the purpose of disseminating "anti communist ideas" and mobilizing
"hundreds of Catholic believers" who clashed with the security forces,
seriously wounding a policeman on duty.
In reply to these accusations on 25 May 1987 Father Dominic Tran Dinh
Thu, the founder of the CMC, wrote a statement to the Secretary General
of the Communist Party of Viet Nam. In his letter he denied all
accusations made against him and members of the CMC. He said that they
had cooperated fully with the requests of the security forces that had
carried out an administrative inspection of the buildings. He stated
that the documents which were seized, which included prayer books, were
recorded by the officials as not containing "an immoral,
anti-government or propagandist attitude". In describing the clashes
which occurred, Father Thu said violence only broke out when the local
people objected to the confiscation of the rice, even though the
priests and monks had asked the people to allow the bags of rice to be
taken away. He also said that members of the CMC asked the people to
disperse, but they would not do so.
The Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix was founded by Father
Dominic Tran Dinh Thu in 1942. In February 1953 the congregation was
officially established as a Religious Order under Canon Law by the
Vatican. In 1954 the Congregation moved south with thousands of other
Catholics who feared persecution following the division of the country
into North and South Viet Nam. Following the establishment of the SRV
in 1975 after decades of civil war, members of the CMC, along with
thousands of other people were required to report for "re-education".
Many of them were released after a short time, but the founder, Father
Dominic Tran Dinh Thu was detained for two years without charge or
trial. Congregation property was seized and members harassed by the
authorities as part of an attempt to repress unofficial churches.
The Congregation of the Mother Coredemptrix is an evangelical order
whose aim is to promote the glory of God and the sanctity of its
members by practicing the three religious vows. Its special aim is for
its members to bring non-Christians to God through the establishment of
orphanages, asylums, hospitals, student residences and so on;
especially through operating schools at various levels. In Viet Nam the
Congregation reports that its main success until 1986 was training lay
people who wanted to join; apparently over 50 training sessions were
held for 1000 heads of households from several different dioceses.
Religious freedom in Viet Nam
The Vietnamese government retains control over religious institutions
and requires religious organizations of all faiths to be affiliated to
the Communist Party-run Fatherland Front. Government permission is
still required for many religious activities to take place.
Article 70 of the Constitution states: "Citizens have the freedom to
believe or not to believe in a religious faith. All religions are equal
before the law. … No one may violate the freedom of faith or exploit it
in a way that is at variance with the law and state policies". The
practical results of this are that freedom of belief and worship are in
fact heavily restricted, as the wider concept of freedom of religion as
enshrined in international human rights standards, particularly freedom
of "worship, observance, practice and teaching" is not included in the
Individuals who are active in religious groups which do not have state
approval are likely to have their rights to freedom of association and
expression curtailed by the authorities. Those people who are linked to
religious groups that are not part of the state-sanctioned churches are
frequently harassed, arrested and imprisoned.
The groups most affected by these restrictions are Roman Catholics and
the CMC congregation, the Unified Buddhist Church of Viet Nam (UBCV),
Hoa Hao Buddhists, members of the Cao Dai church and members of the
evangelical Protestant community.
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