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Vietnam Committee on Human Rights condemns unfair prison sentence on Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang

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The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights strongly condemns the unfair prison sentence handed down on several members of the banned Vietnamese Evangelical Mennonite Church simply for the peaceful exercise of their religious beliefs.

At an unfair trial at the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court on Friday 12 November, which lasted only four hours, Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang, 45, was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. Five of his co-workers also received prison sentences : Pham Ngoc Thach – 2 years imprisonment ; Nguyen Van Phuong and Ms Le Thi Hong Lien – one year ; Nguyen Thanh Nhan and Nguyen Hieu Nghia – 9 months imprisonment.

“It is extremely disturbing to see how the Hanoi regime, which prides itself on conducting human rights dialogues with the United States, the European Union and other democratic nations, continues to repress Vietnam’s peaceful religious communities in flagrant violations of its own Constitution and laws”, declared Vo Van Ai, President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights. “Just one month ago, at the Fifth ASEM Summit in Hanoi, our Committee submitted a list of 23 prisoners of conscience to the EU, and we were happy to learn that the EU Presidency took up our concerns and privately urged Hanoi to release a number of detained dissidents. Today, it is clear that Hanoi totally disregards the friendly appeals made by its Western partners, and worse still, tramples upon the constitutional rights of its own citizens”.

On the list of 23 prisoners presented to the EU Presidency, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights expressed concern on the situation of Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang, arrested on 8 June 2004 in Ho Chi Minh City on alleged charges of “inciting people to obstruct officials from carrying out their duties”. Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang had held a sit-in in December 2003 at a Police station in Ho Chi Minh City along with other church leaders to protest the detention of 19 Christians for distributing religious pamphlets at the SEA Games in Ho Chi Minh City. Security Police had previously beaten him for running projects to help the poor and destitute and repeatedly threatened him to cease his activities.

The trial of these Mennonite Christians comes just two days after the publication of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Annual Human Rights Report, which expressed “particular concern about the plight of non-recognised Buddhist and Protestant groups”, and specifically raised the cases of the Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) Thich Huyen Quang and his deputy Thich Quang Do, and Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang. The UK FCO’s report follows several other strong protests from the international community about Vietnam’s violations of religious freedom, notably an appeal launched by 109 Members of the European Parliament for the immediate and unconditional release of Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do.

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