The 21-year-old Sunday School Bible teacher Le Thi Hong Lien of the Mennonite Church was released by the Vietnamese authorities on Thursday 28th April as part of an amnesty for the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, which is celebrated Saturday 30th April, according to the Compass Direct. She was unexpectedly set freed two days before her scheduled release.
Le Thi Hong Lien was arrested in June 2004 along with a number of other members of the Mennonite community. On 12th November 2004, she was sentenced to 12 months in prison on charges of "resisting a person performing official duty" for her role in a protest. She had been an active demonstrator against the government's policies on religion and has been arrested many times before.
Compass Direct reported that 15 members from the Mennonite Church led by Mrs Nguyen Hong Quang, wife of the jailed chief pastor of the Church, went to the Bien Hoa Mental Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City to pick up Lien on Thursday morning.
The current physical and mental health of Le has completely broken down due to the severe torture and abuse in the prison. Le was reported to have difficulty using her jaw, which was broken by beatings and left untreated. In addition, Le¡¦s parents said that Le has "lost her mind" because she was unable to recognise them on their first visit to the hospital.
According to the Compass Direct, Le has survived after enduring terrible torture in the prison such as drug injections, frequent and severe beatings, electric shock, food deprivation and verbal abuse. Despite the suffering, the press report states, "Ms. Lien exhibited joy in being greeted by her family and by the Vietnam Mennonite Church committee."
The faith of Le¡¦s father has not been shaken. The Mennonite Church said her father "resolutely affirmed that his family would continue to worship God and participate in the activities of their church."
The Vietnam Mennonite Church¡¦s press release stated, "The Vietnam Mennonite Church believes the release of Ms Lien before the end of her sentence came because of the considerable attention paid to her case by many foreign governments, human rights organisations, international media and Christian believers, both Mennonite and many others around the world."
The release of Le has in fact proved the success of international pressure over the Vietnamese authorities in terms of religious freedom. The Church is encouraged to step up their campaign calling on the release of other jailed church leaders.
In 2004, six major church leaders of the Church were detained. Even though four of them have been freed, the Chief Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang and Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach are still in the prison and their appeal was turned down by the People¡¦s Supreme Court of Vietnam.
"Our Vietnam Mennonite Church calls on Vietnam government officials to free the two ... workers of the Vietnam Mennonite Church remaining in prison since 2004, the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang and Evangelist Pham Ngoc Thach, and to respect our freedom of religion," said the press release.
It further 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."