Vietnamese priest planning prison hunger strike

BANGKOK -- A jailed priest in Vietnam undergoing medical treatment at a church-run home said he will begin a hunger strike to protest his sentence when authorities return him to a prison camp in March.

"The communist government plans to take me back to the camp on March 15," Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly said in a statement Feb. 2, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

"I will go on indefinite hunger strike and refuse medical treatment to oppose the sentence," he said.

The priest gave copies of the statement to visitors ahead of the Tet festival marking the Lunar New Year, which started Feb. 3.

Father Ly, 64, has been at a home for retired priests in Hue since his release from the prison camp in northern Ha Nam Province because of health problems last March 15. The home is within the compound where Archbishop Etienne Nguyen Nhu The resides.

A longtime supporter of religious freedom and human rights, Father Ly said the government is forcing him to serve out the rest of his sentence.

The priest was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years of house arrest in March 2007 for alleged anti-government activities. He has denied the charges.

"The sentence is unfair and against international law," he said in the 10-page statement.

He said his partially paralyzed right leg and arm, caused by three strokes in 2009, are 60 percent better. He also said he wanted to donate his organs to people in need of them and his body to a medical school in Hue.

Ordained in 1974, Father Ly has peacefully criticized government policies on religion and advocated for greater respect for human rights in Vietnam since the late 1970s. He has been imprisoned for his actions for a total of 17 years and held under house arrest for total of 15 years.

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