Rep. Christopher Cox

U.S. House of Representatives

Calling on the Government of Socialist Republic of Vietnam to Release Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly

May 11, 2004

Mr. Speaker, we are here on the floor to demand of the communist government of Vietnam that Father Ly immediately be released, unconditionally. Father Ly's only offense is that he is a Catholic priest who sought to minister to the spiritual needs of his countrymen and countrywomen in Vietnam. For this offense, he has been in prison for the last 3 years, and the communist government of Vietnam expects that he will serve the full decade of his sentence.

   This is, of course, an affront to human rights. It is also an affront to the United States, because it was the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that solicited Father Ly's testimony. They asked that Father Ly testify in person. He was willing to do so; but, of course, the communist government of Vietnam forbade him from doing so. So Father Ly then submitted written testimony, and it is on the basis of that written testimony that he was convicted. That is why he is now in jail.

   Never has there been a clearer path from freedom to imprisonment than in this case. We can read the entirety of his offense. What he said, in response to questions from the United States, is that there is not religious freedom in Vietnam. He said that the government of Vietnam had stripped all churches of their independence and freedom. For speaking this truth, Father Ly is now expected to spend a decade in a communist prison.

   It was 1 month after he wrote this testimony and sent it to the United States that he was arrested. Indeed, he was arrested while he was saying mass. He was on the alter before a congregation. Six hundred policemen of the Vietnamese communist government surrounded the church, stormed it, and dragged him off. Of course, the Vietnamese Government provided him no legal representation, no consultation whatsoever; and not surprisingly, on October 19 of that same year, Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly was sentenced to this seemingly indefinite time in prison, 15 years originally. He has already spent 3 years. Now he is going to get a 10-year sentence.

   Father Ly is no stranger to repression at the hands of the Vietnamese dictatorship. Since 1977, the government has repeatedly harassed him, repeatedly arrested him, and repeatedly jailed him for his advocacy of religious freedom.

   So the Congress today calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Father Ly. But we also recognize that he is not alone. He represents the struggle of all of those citizens of Vietnam who are fighting for freedom and for democracy.

   Another piece of legislation to address that struggle is the Vietnam Human Rights Act, H.R. 1587, which I hope the House will soon consider. This legislation will prohibit nonhumanitarian assistance to the government of Vietnam, it will support the efforts of human rights and democracy advocates there, and it will help us work to overcome the government's jamming of Radio Free Asia and their Vietnamese broadcast. It will help resettle refugees and require an annual State Department report on the progress towards freedom and democracy in Vietnam, or the lack of it.

   This resolution that is before us today, of which I am an initial cosponsor, is, therefore, a call to action. It is a call, of course, upon the Vietnamese Government to act; but it is also our call to action. The Vietnamese Government and other dictatorships around the globe must come to realize that oppression does not go unnoticed, that the Congress and the President will continue to fight for those like Father Ly who seek meaningful change in their country.

   Mr. Speaker, I am very, very proud to join the gentleman from New Jersey (Chairman Smith) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) in supporting this resolution, and I am very proud of the stands for human rights that this Congress will soon take.

See the original in the Congressional Record on Page H2764, and H2765

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