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Catholic World News News Feature

Relatives of Jailed Vietnamese Priest Accused of Capital Crime April 11, 2003

An international human rights group said on Friday that Vietnam has begun a harsh crackdown against religious dissidents and their families, accusing them of spying, a crime that carries a penalty of death.

Amnesty International said nieces and nephews of Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest sentenced to 15 years in prison in October 2001 for a letter he sent to the US Congress on the religious freedom situation in Vietnam, have been arrested and charged with spying. In January, Nguyen Vu Viet, 28, his brother Nguyen Truc Cuong, 36, and sister Nguyen Thi Hoa, 44, were arrested and charged with spying for and providing anti-government information to a US-based religious group and radio program.

"Branding the three accused as 'spies,' a charge which can carry the death penalty according to the Vietnamese criminal code, is the misuse of loosely worded national security legislation to stifle the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and association," the Amnesty International report said. "Only in the last couple years have they started charging people again with espionage," said Daniel Alberman, a researcher who prepared the report. "It's a worrying sign that they're going very hard on these people."

Father Van Ly had provided written testimony to a congressional committee urging the US to delay ratification of a bilateral trade agreement until the Communist government in Vietnam allowed freedom of religion. For that act, he was branded a traitor, arrested, and sent to prison.

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