Vietnam: priest among prisoners of conscience to be freed soon

 A Catholic priest with three other human rights campaigners, are expected to be released from a Vietnamese prison with the next few days, David Alton's office has learnt. Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, 59, was sentenced in October 2001 to 15 years in prison and five years after that of house arrest, after being convicted of state sabotage for sending a letter to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. His sentence was reduced to 10 years in 2003 and then to five in June. The other religious dissident in the group, Huynh Van Ba, also known as Nguyen Thien Minh, 50, a member of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, was originally sentenced to life in March 1987 for "attempting to overthrow the people's government", but had his entence reduced to 20 years. Hguyen Dinh Huy, 72, was arrested in 1993 with 11 other members of a political group and sentenced two years later to 15 years in prison. Pro-democracy activist Nguyen Dan Que was given a 30-month jail term for "abusing his democratic rights". The names of the four prisoners had been placed on the EU list of 'prisoners of conscience' . For nearly two years, Freedom Now and Jubilee Campaign have been working for their release. Lord Alton and Congressman Joe Pitts, flew to Hanoi on behalf of Jubilee Campaign, to ask for Fr Van Ly's release. Lord Alton subsequently raised the case directly with the Vietnamese President during his State visit to London. Jubilee Campaign issued thousands of postcards to Catholic parishioners all over the Uk who sent their pleas for clemency to the Vietnamese authorities. The prisoners are due to be freed as part of an amnesty taking place around the traditional Vietnamese New Year, which begins on 8 February. More than 8,000 prisoners could be freed then, the Vietnamese media has said. Lord Alton praised Freedom Now and Jubilee Campaign for "working tirelessly for these two men. The news we are now receiving does look very promising."

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