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Vietnam priest sentenced to eight years in prison for dissident expression

[JURIST] The Thua Thien Hue Provincial People's Court in Vietnam [JURIST news archive] sentenced dissident Catholic priest Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly [Amnesty backgrounder] to eight years' imprisonment Friday for distributing anti-government documents and communicating with foreign pro-democracy activists. Ly had been accused of "harming national security" by advocating boycotts of Vietnam's upcoming national assembly elections, creating unsanctioned political parties, and trying to unseat the government. Officials said that Ly had been plotting to join his Vietnam Progression Party [party website] with foreign activists. During the trial, Ly shouted slogans against the Communist Party of Vietnam [party website] and was removed from the courtroom. Ly also publicly acknowledged that he did produce political materials, but maintained that his actions were not criminal and that he would "continue to fight for democratic values" in Vietnam. The court also handed out sentences, ranging from five years' imprisonment to 18-month suspended sentence, to four other co-defendants, none of whom were represented by lawyers.

Ly, who spent 10 years in prison for his political activism, was granted amnesty in early 2005. On February 5, two human rights lawyers in Vietnam were arrested [JURIST report] after hosting a public discussion on human rights law. Pro-democracy groups in Vietnam have increasingly begun to work together, although the Vietnamese government has worked to keep news of the groups out of the press. Last year, the US and Vietnam ended a three-year suspension [JURIST report] on talks regarding human rights and religious freedoms [HRW backgrounder] in the country, which began when the US canceled the annual Human Rights Dialogue with the Government of Vietnam in 2003 due to a lack of progress on the issues. AP has more.

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