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Three Vietnamese dissidents related to jailed Catholic priest Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly have received sentences of up to five years for "abusing democratic freedoms," Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.

Ly's nephews, Nguyen Vu Viet, 27, and Nguyen Truc Cyong, 36, were sentenced to five and four years respectively. Their sister, Nguyen Thi Hoa, 44 and a widow with four children, was sentenced to three years in prison, RFA's Vietnamese service reports.

All were convicted for "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens," a court official said.

"It's shocking that in the 21st century people are still being charged for protecting their right to freedom of expression, or being jailed because their relatives dare to express their sense of freedom," Ngo Thi Hien, president of the Commission for Religious Liberty in Vietnam, told RFA's Vietnamese service in an interview.

The three are accused of sending information about their uncle and the religious situation in Vietnam to a U.S.-based group opposing the Vietnamese government. They were arrested in June 2001, one month after Ly was taken into custody. They were originally accused of espionage, which carries a minimum 12-year sentence.

Ly, a dissident and advocate for freedom of religion and expression, was sentenced in October 2001 to 15 years in jail; his sentence was reduced to 10 years in July of this year.

"The three siblings have been a target just because they are close relatives of Father Ly," Father Phan Van Loi, a close friend of Father Ly, told RFA.

After the sentencing, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson called for the Vietnamese government to "free all political and religious prisoners, who have done nothing more than exercise their rights of free speech, free religion, and other basic freedoms."


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