Redemptorist priests say those arrested are decent people working for the common good in a peaceful manner
A file image of lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen (left) and his wife Bui Kim Phuong with a banner calling for the release of prisoners of conscience in Ho Chi Minh City sometime during August 2014. (Photo supplied)
A pastor and three rights activists have been arrested in Vietnam and charged with trying to overthrow the communist government in a widening crackdown on activists and dissidents.
The Ministry of Public Security announced July 30 that security officers arrested Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton from the northern province of Thanh Hoa, engineer Pham Van Troi from Hanoi, freelance writer Truong Minh Duc and lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen, both from Ho Chi Minh City.
The ministry said the four, who are all former prisoners of conscience, are accused of "acting to overthrow the people's government" and are connected to Christian Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai who was arrested along with activist Le Thu Ha in December 2015.
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Ton, 45, is still recovering from severe injuries received from being assaulted by plainclothes police in February. Prior to that, the pastor, a member of the Interfaith Council of Vietnam, was sentenced to two years in prison and two years of house arrest for so-called anti-state activities in 2011.
Ton also serves as head of the Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD), a local civil society group. Troi and Duc are members of this group, while Truyen works for the Justice and Peace Office run by the Redemptorists in Ho Chi Minh City.
In its July 30 statement, the BFD described the arrests of the four activists as "being contrary to the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, trampling on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as defined by the U.N. charter, and betraying international commitments that Vietnam has signed."
"We demand that the Vietnamese government unconditionally release the detainees, as well as all prisoners of conscience who have been arrested and arbitrarily prosecuted in recent years," the statement said.
It also called on the Vietnamese people to ask the government to "immediately stop oppressing the people of conscience," and speak out against the government's acts that "strangle the freedom, democracy and human rights of the Vietnamese people."
In an earlier incident, police in Nghe An province, northern Vietnam, arrested prominent dissident Le Dinh Luong on July 24. Luong, a Catholic, has been accused of conducting "regular activities with the aim to overthrow the government."
Government 'does not tell the truth'
Redemptorist Father Anthony Le Ngoc Thanh, head of the Justice and Peace Office, said in a video clip posted on Facebook that those arrested are "good people and work for the common good in a peaceful manner. Their contributions are highly appreciated."
Father Thanh said the latest arrests show that the government fears those who are highly respected by the public. "People no longer trust what communist authorities say because they do not tell the truth," he said.
Father Thanh said the authorities steal people's properties instead of serving them. The state knows people have lost belief in them, said the priest.
"It is disgraceful that the government uses police and prison to oppress people who are so highly respected," Father Thanh said.
He said in the past people feared being accused of conducting reactionary crimes but in recent years this has changed. The fear has gone, he said.
The priest quoted journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh who said via Facebook: "Don't be sad because your friends are arrested but be sad why we have not been arrested yet. Fighting means accepting imprisonment."
Father Thanh warned that the arrests will only incite people to fight against the government.
This year, so far, the government has detained 19 activists, most of whom have been accused of conducting anti-state campaigns, attempted subversion or opposing officials on duty.
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