Vietnam Releases Le Thi Hong Lien

Monday, May 2, 2005

Unexpected freedom comes two days before special amnesty.

Special to Compass Direct

LOS ANGELES, May 2, 2005 (Compass) -- Vietnamese authorities released 22-year-old children’s Bible teacher Le Thi Hong Lien from Bien Hoa Mental Hospital yesterday morning.

Ms. Lien’s unexpected release came two months before the completion of her one-year prison sentence on charges of resisting a police officer performing official duties, and two days before her scheduled early release on April 30 as part of a special amnesty program.

A press release from the office of the General Secretary of the Vietnam Mennonite Church said that a delegation of 15 people led by Mrs. Nguyen Hong Quang, wife of the jailed pastor, went to the Center II in Ho Chi Minh City to pick up Lien shortly before noon.

“Ms. Lien exhibited joy in being greeted by her family and by the Vietnam Mennonite Church committee,” the press report states.

Both Ms. Lien and her father refused to sign an amnesty paper indicating “release before end of sentence” because it included a clause stating that the punishment was just.

Lien reportedly endured torture while incarcerated, including drug injections, frequent and severe beatings, electric shock, food deprivation and verbal abuse.

Lien’s deteriorating physical and mental condition prompted authorities to transfer her from Chi Hoa Prison to the Tong Le Chan Re-Education Camp and then to Bien Hoa Mental Hospital in early March for treatment.

The young woman had “lost her mind” at that point, according to her parents, whom Lien was unable to recognize on their first visit to the hospital.

Visitors said Lien’s body showed signs of severe abuse. She has difficulty using her jaw, which was broken by beatings and left untreated.

“The Vietnam Mennonite Church believes the release of Ms. Lien before the end of her sentence came because of the considerable attention paid to her case by many foreign governments, human rights organizations, international media and Christian believers, both Mennonite and many others around the world,” yesterday’s press release stated.

“Our Vietnam Mennonite Church calls on Vietnam government officials to free the two ... workers of the Vietnam Mennonite Church remaining in prison since 2004, the Rev. Nguyen Quang and Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach, and to respect our freedom of religion.”

Quang and Thach are part of the group that came to be known as the “Mennonite Six.” The six were arrested between March and June 2004 in connection with a confrontation involving agents of the secret police conducting a surveillance stakeout at the headquarters of the Mennonite church in Ho Chi Minh City.

Quang and Thach remain incarcerated in Chi Hoa Prison after their three- and two-year sentences were upheld in an appeal trial on April 12.

On April 27, security police reportedly summoned Lien’s father to the District 2 station in Ho Chi Minh City to notify him of his daughter’s release. They strongly advised the Liens not to go to the Quang home, which also serves as the meeting place for the Mennonite church.

According to the Mennonite press release, “Lien’s father resolutely affirmed that his family would continue to worship God and participate in the activities of their church.”

The report stated, “Our church would like to take this opportunity to express our sincerest gratitude to all who have prayed for and with us and to all donors who have contributed toward the needs of the prisoners and their families.”