Religious leaders in Vietnam have strongly condemned authorities for heavily sentencing a pastor and harassing another religious leader for their democratic activities.
Lutheran Pastor Dinh Diem was sentenced to 16 years in prison on July 12 for “attempts to overthrow the people’s government” by a court in his home province of Quang Ngai.
Diem, 56, was prosecuted for his links to a U.S.-based democracy group which is labeled as reactionary by Vietnam’s government.
The pastor, who was arrested last January, was also accused of posting and sharing articles and photographs with content opposing the Communist Party and the state on social media.
On June 23, Hua Phi, a dignitary from indigenous faith Cao Dai, was beaten unconscious by a dozen plainclothes police while he was having dinner at his coffee farm in Duc Trong district of Lam Dong province. They also cut off his beard and prevented him from being hospitalized.
“We strongly condemn the unfair and heavy sentence imposed on Pastor Diem because he has not done anything illegal,” the Interfaith Council of Vietnam said in a statement issued on July 21.
The council, whose members are from Reunified Buddhism of Vietnam, Catholicism, Protestantism and two indigenous groups of Cao Dai and Hoa Hao Buddhist sect, said “people’s government” is a general, illegitimate and arbitrary concept which should not be used to accuse people of committing acts of subversion.
It said it is necessary and legal to peacefully fight against a regime that inhumanely and cruelly causes suffering to the people and damage to the country.
The brutal attack on Hua Phi prevented him from meeting with Australian diplomats in Ho Chi Minh City on June 26. The attack was also thought to be revenge for his outspoken comments on religious violations.
The statement, signed by 28 religious leaders including five Catholic priests, said Hua Phi has been summoned to appear at the district’s police station for “offences against the nation and providing untrue news to foreign newspapers” many times this year.
The council criticized the government for escalating a clampdown on growing peaceful protests among activists, especially religious leaders, against the communist government’s policies.
It called on people and rights groups in the country and abroad to pressurize Vietnam to stop persecuting Hua Phi and other dissidents, and free prisoners of conscience including Pastor Diem.