[JURIST] Vietnamese authorities on Monday released a Catholic priest and leading rights activist from Hanoi prison. Father Nguyen Van Ly [Freedom Now profile] was released early Monday morning and has been reunited with his family in Hue. Ly had been arrested and charged in 2007 under Article 88 of Vietnam's Penal Code [text], which provides for the incarceration of individuals involved in "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." Ly was sentenced [JURIST report] to eight years' imprisonment for distributing anti-government documents and communicating with foreign pro-democracy activists. He suffered two strokes [AI press release] in 2009 that left him partially paralyzed. Calls for Ly's release included a June 2009 letter [text, PDF] from 37 US senators addressed to President Nguyen Minh Triet. Ly is known as one of the founders of Vietnamese pro-democracy movement Bloc 8406. Ly's international counsel Freedom Now [advocacy website] has praised him as a "prisoner of conscience" [press release, PDF].
Ly's release comes days after the release [JURIST report] of leading Vietnamese rights lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. No clear connection has been identified between the two incidents, but the releases happen in the midst of what some rights groups such as Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] have termed [press release] a "campaign to silence dissent." At least 16 activists have been jailed in the last few months. Despite the releases of Ly and Nhan, other high-profile activists, such as human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai [JURIST report], are still serving sentences.