CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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Exile exposes Vietnam’s treatment of dissidents

HANOI (UCAN): A Vietnamese Catholic social advocate in exile, Francis Xavier Dang Xuan Dieu, has backed up a claim from Amnesty International that his country is guilty of physically and mentally torturing prisoners of conscience.

During a human rights summit, Dieu described treatment meted out to prisoners of conscience in the Communist country.

“In prison we have our dignity trampled on, we are discriminated against, we have our lives threatened. We are silenced by the Vietnam Communist Party prison system,” he said when appearing as a witnesse at the Ninth Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy held in Switzerland on February 21.

“I was moved around six detention centres across the country and to dozens of prison cells, each with its own harsh conditions, Dieu, who was arrested in July 2011, but was not tried until January 2013, related.

He testified that in prison, the law was just piece of paper and prisoners were treated according to the whims of the prison officials. Anyone who did not subserviently follow orders was seen as hostile and harshly disciplined.

“Prison guards’ will is like God’s will, inmates are to address them as elders, while prison guards address inmates as children,” Dieu said in describing the conditions.

He explained that because he opposed such treatment peacefully and fought for change, he was labelled as restive and dangerous.

Dieu added that after he wrote to the bishop of his home diocese of Vinh about his mistreatment, “My legs were put in stocks for 10 days in a dark and smelly cell. I was given no drinking water for three days.”

The blogger, who criticised social injustice and rampant corruption, said that prison guards only stopped trying to force him to confess after he went on several hunger strikes totalling more than 100 days and refused to take more than one meal a day continuously for nearly 300 continuous days.

“I never met my relatives who made 45 trips of thousands of kilometres, putting time and money into the hope of seeing me. However, they never saw me. Even worse, prison officials lied to my family and told them I did not want to see them,” he said, adding that the government did not allow him to say goodbye to his family before he was exiled either.

Dieu was taken from prison and forced straight onto a plane into exile in France on January 12. That was a condition on his freedom and release.

He added that when prisoners violated prison rules, they were educated through violence, with their legs bound for 10 days followed by solitary confinement for three months to a year.

He explained that most suffered edema and even paralysis after three months. He also witnessed many inmates getting beaten while bound.

“Religious freedom is trampled on in prison,” he related in his testimony, adding that prisoners are banned from using the scriptures and he was even prevented from receiving a bible from a European Union delegation.

But he pointed out that some prisoners of conscience will go on a hunger strike just to receive a bible.

Dieu served nearly six of his 13-year sentence on charges of overthrowing the Communist government.

“Without the support of the international community, I would still be in prison. My presence here today reflects the strength of the international community,” he stressed.

He asked the international community to continue speaking up and pressuring government of Vietnam to stop persecuting democracy and human rights advocates, saying that the road to freedom, democracy and justice in his country still holds many obstacles and poses risks to the lives of many people.

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