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Vietnamese priest seeks support for convict's ailing child

Prelate says rights activist, family are victims of police intimidation, as he drums up funds to pay girl's medical bills

ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi

ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi

Published: April 04, 2019 08:33 AM GMT

Updated: April 04, 2019 10:28 AM GMT

Vietnamese priest seeks support for convict's ailing child

Nguyen Thi Yen (first from right), the wife of jailed activist Francis Nguyen Nam Phong, poses for a photo with Father John Baptist Nguyen Dinh Thuc (third from left) and other activists at Yen's home in Vietnam's Nghe An province on April 2. (Photo supplied by Father Thuc)

An activist priest in northern Vietnam has called on the public to provide financial support for the relatives of a jailed environmental activist, including his ailing teenage daughter.

Francis Nguyen Nam Phong is serving a two-year term and is unable to take care of his eldest daughter, Nguyen Hai Giang, who was recently diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her right leg.

Father John Baptist Nguyen Dinh Thuc, the pastor of Song Ngoc parish in Nghe An province, said doctors from the Medical University Hospital in Hanoi recommend amputating the 10th grader's leg.

The priest, who often supports environmental activists, said the medical bill is beyond the means of her five-member family, who live in extreme poverty in a ramshackle house.

The 16-year-old's mother, Nguyen Thi Yen, became the sole breadwinner after a friend invited Phong for a drink in November 2017. He never returned home.

Public security officers informed Yen later that Phong had been arrested for "having sexual relations with prostitutes." He was subsequently charged with "opposing officers on duty" and put behind bars.

Phong, who is now 39, helped hundreds of local fishermen sue a Taiwanese steel plant in 2016 for polluting coastal waters.

Father Thuc said that prior to Phong's arrest, his family had been monitored by police and intimidated by local gangsters, who also invaded and damaged their home.

"Please pray for Giang and her family to be in peace and overcome this difficult time," he said in a statement posted on social media on April 2.

"Please be generous and offer financial help to the family of this prisoner of conscience," he asked.

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One rights advocate, who declined to be named, said the public should rally to Phong's cause because "we owe him a debt of gratitude for his struggle for the environment and for our nation."

Some people have reportedly already sent donations to Phong's wife.

Nguyen Thuy Hanh, who runs a fund for prisoners of conscience, claims that police often try to prevent convicts from receiving the money by threatening their relatives.

She said several officers in Hong Ngu district of Dong Thap Province summoned the family of another jailed man, Huynh Truong Ca, on April 3 and interrogated them for accepting money from the fund.

Hanh accused the authorities of violating the law by "terrorizing" prisoners' relatives in this manner.

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