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Radio Free Asia reports on early release of imprisoned member of Vietnamese religious group

Vuong Thanh Thuan, a member of the independent Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist group, has been released from prison seven months early, his family told Radio Free Asia.

Thuan, 33, was arrested with his father, Vuong Van Tha, and two other followers, Nguyen Nhat Truong and Nguyen Van Thuong, on May 18, 2017. They were all charged with  “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Criminal Code.

In the trial on January 23, 2018, Thuan was sentenced to seven years in prison and three years of probation while his father was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The other two were given six-year terms and completed their sentences in March.

Thuan’s sister Vuong Ngoc Thao, who is a refugee in Thailand, spoke to her younger brother on the phone immediately after his release on Oct. 19.

“My brother was in prison for six years and five months and that was reduced by seven months,” she told RFA Vietnamese.

“At first, when he was in prison, he was silent and didn’t say anything, but later when he saw suppressed political prisoners, he felt it was so unfair that he started protesting and going on a hunger strike so enjoyed no further reduction in his sentence.”

She said her brother’s health was okay and he was mentally stable when he returned home.

RFA has been unable to contact Thuan directly because he does not have a phone.

His sister, Thao, told RFA she was concerned about their father, who they lost contact with four years ago.

She said her family is very worried about Tha’s health because they have not been able to visit him or send gifts to him in Binh Duong province’s An Phuoc Prison.

This is the second time Tha has been imprisoned. In the first case, in 2012, he was sentenced to three years on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” for his activities in practicing religious freedom. 

“When my father went to prison for the first time, I went to visit him and the prison said my father refused to accept supplies. In the end, they left my father starving for seven months and five days so it was like my father was slowly dying,” Thao said.

She said she suspects the prison punished him because he refused to sign his confession and did not wear a prison uniform.

Thao said she wants human rights organizations and the international community to speak up so that her father can be treated more humanely, meet his family and receive gifts from relatives according to the provisions of the Law on Execution of Criminal Judgments. 

RFA called An Phuoc Prison to find out about Tha, but no one answered the phone.

He is a lay follower of the independent religious group Pure Hoa Hao Buddhism. Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao religion, which has some two million followers across the country, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting groups.

Tha was accused of spreading fabricated, distorted, and slanderous statements about the government’s religious repression, and also telling his son to use his phone to record video clips of his work to spread on social media.

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

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