A jailed member of a dissident Vietnamese religious group has gone on hunger strike to protest being moved to a cell occupied by a prisoner convicted on drug charges, family members said on Wednesday.
Nguyen Hoang Nam, a follower of Hoa Hao Buddhism now held at the Xuan Loc prison in southeast Vietnam's Dong Nai province, began his strike on Oct. 11 and has not eaten for six days, his wife Lam Thi Yen Trinh told RFA's Vietnamese Service.
"Previously, he was jailed at [Xuan Loc's] K2 camp, but now they have transferred him to stay with a drug addict convict, so he has now gone on hunger strike," Trinh said after visiting her husband in jail on Wednesday morning.
"He has not eaten for six days now, and he is so weak that two prison officers had to carry him back out this morning because he can't walk anymore. He said that he will die for his beliefs," Trinh said.
Prison officials asked Trinh to urge her husband to end his strike, adding that they make food available to Nam but that he refuses to eat, she said.
Calls by RFA seeking comment from authorities at Xuan Loc rang unanswered on Wednesday.
Placing prisoners of conscience such as writers or religious figures in cells with violent criminals has been a common practice in Vietnam prisons, previous RFA reports have shown.
Nguyen Hoang Nam was arrested in 2017 on charges of "disturbing public order" while traveling to the house of another church member to join in worship services, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
He was later sentenced on Feb. 9, 2018, by the People's Court of An Phu district in An Giang province to a four-year prison term that was upheld on appeal in May that same year.
Vietnam's government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao religion, which has roughly two million followers across the country, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting Hoa Hao groups, including the sect in An Giang province, that do not follow the state-sanctioned branch.
Rights groups say that authorities in An Giang routinely harass followers of the unapproved groups, prohibiting public readings of the Hoa Hao founder's writings and discouraging worshipers from visiting Hoa Hao temples in An Giang and other provinces.
In April this year, a U.S. bipartisan commission called for Vietnam to be placed on a State Department blacklist of the world's worst abusers of religious freedoms, noting that the country's removal from the list 13 years ago has not eased violations under one-party communist rule.
Although the State Department removed Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) in 2006 amid improving diplomatic relations, "the government of Vietnam has continued to persecute religious individuals and organizations," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in an annual report.
Religious freedom conditions last year "trended negative," USCIRF said, adding that 244 prisoners of conscience held in Vietnam's jails at year-end included "some who advocated for freedom of religion or belief, and others who simply professed or practiced their faith."
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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