Dissident priest released by Vietnam before Obama visit

Just before a visit from President Obama, Vietnam released a political dissident priest who had spent much of the last two decades in jail or house arrest.

Catholic Church officials announced that Fr Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly was released from jail on Friday morning, AFP reported.

President Obama started a three-day visit to Vietnam on Monday.

“Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly has returned to the mother diocese on Friday morning after his years and months in (northern) Nam Ha jail,” Hue archdiocese announced.

The archdiocese’s website ran several photos of the ageing priest, dressed in a loose white shirt and baseball cap, being welcomed by church members.

Neither church nor government officials were immediately available for comment.

Fr Ly, who is in his early 70s, is often compared to Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

Both are veteran dissidents who have spent years in pursuit of greater democratic freedoms.

Fr Ly was jailed three times for a total of 14 years before his fourth and latest imprisonment in March 2007.

This came after he was charged for spreading propaganda against the communist state.

He had been accused of helping to found “Bloc 8406”, considered one of the Vietnam’s first organised pro-democracy coalitions.

He gained prominence with his anti-government actions, including hunger strikes and several widely circulated missives calling for a multi-party system.

Fr Ly was briefly released from jail in March 2010 to seek treatment for a brain tumour and was placed under house arrest.

He was returned to jail more than a year later, sparking calls from the United States and international rights groups for his release.

Priorities for President Obama’s visit to Vietnam are believed to be trade, security and human rights issues.

Several political prisoners remain in jail in Vietnam.


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