Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam — A Catholic dissident who recently released from prison said his jail service was sent by providence and he would continue to give his voice to democratic and human rights.
"I believe my prison service was sent by God because I had opportunities to get acquainted with several people suffering disgrace. God changed me into a new man who dared to defend the truth and those who are trampled on and to oppose prison officers' wrongdoings," Anthony Dau Van Duong said after he was freed Oct. 2.
Duong was sentenced to 42 months in prison but was given an early release on condition that he serve an additional 18 months of probation.
The 26-year-old and three other young Catholics were convicted of "conducting propaganda against the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam" for passing out 5,000 leaflets in May 2011 that demanded a multi-party system, criticized Communist Party policies and rejected the results of the previous year's national assembly election.
Electoral candidates are hand-picked by the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam before the vote goes to the public.
Duong and his friends were arrested in August 2011.
"It is most important that you trust in God and then you would do all things," he said while talking about his jail experience with his friends.
During his service, he said prison warders kept him with prisoners with HIV/AIDS and those jailed for drug abuse and murder. With the guards' permission, they beat him brutally "while I tried to pray with God to overcome physical pain."
"The guards trampled on inmates' dignity, hit them as hard as they could, and cut power in cells on weekends," he said.
Duong had petitioned jail officers to provide enough water for inmates. He also made demands that sick prisoners be allowed to rest and that others not be forced to overwork. Consequently he was disciplined.
He said jail warders confiscated a copy of the Bible his family sent him. "I wrote to them, saying the Bible teaches people good things, so why do you deny me access to it? You are violating the religious freedom that is a basic human right. You are trampling on my faith and life. I will go on a hunger strike until you give the Bible back to me," he said. "A warder told me that since religious books are banned in the camp, he was not afraid if I petitioned the prime minister."
"However, he returned it to me a few days later."
Duong, member of northern Vinh City-based Catholic College Students Group, whose members study catechism and the Scripture to light their actions and faith life, said he would resume his previous activities out of faith.
"I used to bury aborted fetuses from hospitals, provide accommodation to unwed pregnant women, criticize abortion, attend courses on the Scriptures, and lend voices to freedom of speech and press, and call for a multi-party system," he said.
"My deeds are right so I will pursue them with determination. I fight against social injustice and defend those who are treated unfairly," he said.
Jail authorities reportedly said they had decided to release Duong, claiming he had been effectively "re-educated" while serving his sentence. However, he said, "I was not re-educated at all."