WASHINGTON, July 16, 2003--Vietnamese authorities have reduced the sentence of a dissident Catholic priest jailed two years ago on charges of undermining national unity, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. Sources told RFA's Vietnamese service that Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly would have his sentence reduced from 15 years to 10 years in jail, followed by five years' house arrest.

"His behavior was good," said one source, who asked not to be named. "They've cut back his sentence five years."

In Washington, the first secretary of the Vietnamese Embassy, Dzung Vu, said he hadn't received information about a reduction in Ly's sentence but said it could be related to a twice-yearly review of prisoners' sentences by the Vietnamese government.

"At the Lunar New Year and on Independence Day, in September, there is a general amnesty in which inmates themselves recommend who should have his sentence reduced, based on his behavior. This is a very humane system," he said, adding that the embassy was waiting for information about the next round of amnesties from Hanoi.

Ly, a leading dissident and advocate for freedom of religion and expression, was handed a 15-year jail term, followed by five years' house arrest, in October 2001. In a one-day trial, a court in the central city of Hue sentenced him to two years for defying an earlier detention order and 13 years for undermining national unity.

Ly--who led a small parish in Hue--had urged the U.S. Congress to delay approval for a bilateral trade pact until Hanoi eased curbs on religion. His statements outraged the Vietnamese government, which denounced him as a traitor.

In May, Vietnamese authorities postponed the trial on espionage charges of three of Ly's relatives, saying they needed more time to prepare the prosecution. Nguyen Vu Viet and Nguyen Truc Cuong, two nephews of Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, and Nguyen Thi Hoa, his niece, were arrested in June 2001, one month after Ly was taken into custody.

A lifelong critic of Vietnam's record on religious rights, Ly--leader of a small parish in Hue--had previously spent 10 years in jail from 1977-78 and 1983-92 "for opposing the revolution and destroying the people's unity."

RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content. #####


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