02/01/2005, 00.00
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Dissidents to be freed as part of New Year reprieve

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Vietnam is to release six political or religious prisoners as part of an amnesty of thousands of detainees to mark the Lunar New Year.

The amnesty of 8,325 prisoners includes "six prisoners sentenced for violating national security", presidential spokesman Nguyen Van Bich said yesterday. "The amnesty reflects the lenient and humanitarian policy of the Vietnamese state towards prisoners with good re-education."

The official said among the six were Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, 59, and political dissident Nguyen Dan Que, 63.

Father Ly was sentenced in October 2001 to 15 years in prison and to five years of house arrest after he served his jail term.

He was convicted of state sabotage for sending a letter to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. His sentence was reduced to 10 years in 2003 and then to five years last June, amid criticism of Hanoi's treatment of religious dissidents.

Que, an internet dissident and democracy advocate, was given a 30-month jail term last July for "abusing his democratic rights".

Last Friday, a diplomat said four dissidents on a European Union list of prisoners of conscience would be released. Apart from Ly and Que, he mentioned Huynh Van Ba, a member of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and another dissident jailed in 1993, Nguyen Dinh Huy. Yesterday another source mentioned Truong Van Duc, a member of the Hoa Ha Buddhist sect who was sentenced to 12 years' jail in 2001.

All are well-known critics of the communist government, which keeps an iron grip on the media and often stifles dissent with long prison sentences.

Ba, 50, was originally sentenced to life imprisonment in March 1987 for "attempting to overthrow the people's government" but had his sentence reduced to 20 years.

Huy, 72, was arrested in 1993 with 11 other members of a political group and sentenced two years later to 15 years in prison. 

The next amnesties will be announced on April 30 to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the US-backed South Vietnamese regime, and on National Day on September 2.
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