The sole woman among six Mennonite church workers sentenced to prison in Vietnam last November was released Friday, a persecution watchdog group reported yesterday.
The Voice of the Martyrs announced that a delegation of 15 people from the Vietnam Mennonite Church went to Bien Hoa Mental Hospital to pick up Le Thi Hong Lien, who had been in detention for ten months.
Le, a zealous church worker who specialized in teaching the Bible to small children, was arrested on June 30, 2004 nearly three months after a Mar. 2 incident involving the five men that were tried with her following their earlier arrests.
On Nov. 12, Le and the others were convicted of inciting people to obstruct officials from carrying out their duties. According to Compass News, those close to the situation say the charges and trial were an artifice to take out of circulation Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang an outspoken leader of the Vietnam Mennonite Church. Nguyen had actively campaigned against religious freedom and human rights abuses.
Sources say that during her incarceration, Le was beaten, abused and tortured to the point that she suffered a mental breakdown. Even at the time of her trial and in the Chi Hoa Prison, she continued to be beaten in spite of being mentally ill, VOM reported.
According to VOM sources, just before her release, both Le and her father refused to sign an amnesty paper that would have required Le to serve house arrest for the remaining two months of her sentence. Her father insisted that she either be completely freed or returned to the hospital.
Les father also reportedly affirmed that his family would continue to worship God and participate in the activities of their church despite being strongly advised by authorities to keep Le from going to their churchs meeting place to avoid causing "any difficulties for the local government authorities."
The Vietnam Mennonite Church believes Les release before the end of her sentence came because the considerable attention paid to her case by many foreign governments, human rights organizations, international media and Christian believers, both Mennonites and many others around the world.
In their release the church body stated: "Our church would like to take this opportunity to express our sincerest gratitude to all who have prayed for and with us and to all donors who have contributed toward the needs of the prisoners and their families."
Upon her release, Le reportedly exhibited joy at seeing her family and church committee who had come to meet her at her release. VOM reports that Les jaw, which was broken in the beatings she received while in prison, remains very painful because it did not receive proper medical attention.
With the release of Le, only two of the Mennonite Six still remain in detention the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang and Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach, whose prison sentences were upheld by a superior court on Tuesday, Apr.12.
The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada has joined the Vietnamese Mennonite Church in calling for the release of the remaining two prisoners.