Seminarian stages protest for imprisoned Vietnamese priest

 An American seminarian, training for the priesthood in Britain will go on a 24-hour fast today in protest against the unjust imprisonment of a Vietnamese priest, Fr Van Ly. Fr Van Ly is serving a fifteen-year prison sentence having been jailed by the communist government for speaking out in favour of religious liberty and social change. Jubilee Campaign has launched a campaign for his freedom following an investigative mission to Vietnam by Lord Alton of Liverpool earlier this year, where he learnt about Fr Van Ly's ordeal. Jim Snyder, who formerly served for the US Navy before training for the priesthood, has decided to go without food on Ash Wednesday in a symbolic act of solidarity with Fr Van Ly. He said: "Fr Van Ly's imprisonment is a shocking example that communism's dying but cruel grip on countries like Vietnam is preventing genuine religious freedom. Fasting for one day is a simple act of protest but I hope many others will join in this campaign to achieve Fr Van Ly's release. Fr Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly (pronounced Lee) is aged 56, and was arrested in May 2001 and after a trial without a defence lawyer or public audience. He was sentenced to 15 years in solitary confinement followed by five years on probation. According to the official Vietnam News Agency he was arrested at An Truyen church, Phu An commune, in central Thua Thien-Hue province, for his alleged 'failure to abide by the decisions on his probation issued by authorized State agencies' . For more than 30 years Fr Van Ly has peacefully campaigned for improved religious freedom in Vietnam. In a written testimony submitted to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in February 2001, he called on the Communist Government to make significant improvements to religious freedom. He called on officials to allow the churches to appoint their own priests, to stop listing a person's religious affiliation on their ID card, to return confiscated property and to release those held for their religious beliefs. He had urged the Congress to postpone the ratification of a bilateral trade agreement while religious persecution persisted. In solitary confinement in Nam Ha province, Fr Van Ly is barred from speaking to the guards who bring him his food and drink twice a day. During a rare visit from relatives, he said : "My duty and my conscience required me to fight for the freedom of our Church. If I had realized those terrifying situations for our Church and had not done anything, I would have been guilty before God. Now I think I have accomplished my duty, I do not feel sorry for myself." During the visit on behalf of the Jubilee Campaign to Hanoi, Lord Alton and US Congressman, Joseph Pitts, raised Fr.Van Ly's case with Le Quang Vinh, head of the Vietnamese Government Committee on Religion and other government officials. Quang Vinh told the delegation that they could not visit Fr Van Ly but he did promise to place a plea for clemency before the Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai. Vietnam is open to international representations. You can help Fr.Van Ly by writing to the Vietnamese Ambassador, H.E. Vuong Thua Phong, 12 Victoria Road, London W8 5RD at the Embassy in London and to the Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai, at the Vietnamese Government Offices in Hanoi. A campaign pack and photo-card of Fr Van Ly is available from Jubilee Campaign ( Tel 01483894787)

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