Sentence of Vietnamese Catholic Priest Reduced From 20 to 15 Years

HANOI, JULY 28, 2003 ( Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly, sentenced by a Hanoi court in 2001 to 20 years in prison, might receive a reduced sentence.

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The information, reported by a Vietnamese newspaper on July 16, stated that judge Tran Cong Quyen had reduced the priest’s sentence by 5 years, previously established at 15 years of prison and 5 of house arrest.

According to international observers, the clemency shown Father Ly, who has suffered repression from the government on other occasions because of his constant struggle in defense of freedom of religion, might be to improve Vietnam’s image, which has been at the center of international criticism for civil rights abuses, MISNA agency reported.

In 2002, the European Commission mobilized in defense of the priest, and Amnesty International included him in its list of «prisoners of conscience.»

Hanoi’s more conciliatory attitude may also be due to Washington’s decision made earlier this month, to implement an agreement with a «social clause» linking financial assistance to Vietnam — of a non-humanitarian nature — to respect for human rights.

Accused of undermining national unity and of violating the norms of religious freedom, Father Ly might be the second religious in recent times to benefit from the clemency of the Vietnamese magistracy.

In fact, at the end of June, two months ahead of time, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do was released from house arrest, to which he was condemned in 2001.

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