Vietnam releases ailing Lutheran pastor from jail, deports his family to US

Vietnam has released an ailing Lutheran pastor who was sentenced to 11 years in jail for his advocacy for religious freedom, but he was then deported together with his family to the United States.

(REUTERS / Kham)A Vietnamese national flag is seen at the Flag Tower of Hanoi in Hanoi November 13, 2014.

On July 29, U.S.-based non-profit organization Boat People SOS said Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh was freed from his prison sentence on July 28 on the condition that he be exiled in the U.S. with his wife and five children. His release came a few weeks after his wife Tran Thi Hong complained of his deteriorating health when she visited him in Xuan Loc Prison in Dong Nai province, UCANews detailed.

"We welcome the early release of Pastor Chinh but deplore the fact that he and his loved ones must go into exile," BPSOS president Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang said. "We are also concerned about nearly 100 other religious prisoners who also deserve freedom and continuing religious persecution in Vietnam."

During Tran's visit last month, she observed that her husband was looking pale and was unable to stand. She also claimed that the Lutheran pastor was abused for a month in prison after he revealed the details of his solitary confinement to U.S. delegates who visited him.

Pastor Chinh was handed an 11-year jail sentence in 2011 for "undermining national unity." The charge stemmed from his efforts to fight for an ethnic minority group's freedom of worship.

Meanwhile, in Thua Thien Hue province, plainclothes police arrived at the Thien An monastery on June 28 to remove the cross there. Priest Khoa Cao Duc Loi told Radio Free Asia's Vietnamese Service that the officers beat the Catholic priests and their followers when they noticed that church members were taking photos.

Loi said two priests sustained injuries to their eyes and one fell unconscious because of the attack. They took the priest who collapsed to the church clinic, where he woke up with chest pains and a headache.

The Vietnamese government has reportedly been repressing the Catholic Church and subjecting priests and congregants to land grabs, forced eviction and other similar attacks. Last year, the head of the monastery filed a petition against the illegal seizure of church land after authorities prevented priests from constructing a road to their garden.