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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 05:09 GMT 06:09 UK
Vietnam priest jailed for dissent
Nguyen Van Ly (file image from 2006)
Father Ly was placed under house arrest in late February
A Catholic priest has been jailed for eight years in Vietnam on charges of disseminating information to undermine the state.

Father Nguyen Van Ly is a prominent democracy activist and long-time opponent of Communist Party rule.

The 60-year-old has been under house arrest since early February. His trial lasted one day.

Four co-defendants received prison terms ranging from 18 months suspended to six years.

"The behaviour of the defendants amounts to the crime of spreading propaganda against the Socialist state", Judge Bui Quoc Hiep told the court in the central city of Hue.

Earlier, a policeman had removed Father Ly from the court after he shouted "Down with the Communist Party".

In an unusual move, journalists were allowed limited access to the proceedings.

Political crackdown

Father Ly has already spent 14 of the past 24 years in prison, the BBC's Chris Xia reports.

He was last jailed in 2001 after he urged the US to link its trade policy with Vietnam's human rights record. He was released as part of an amnesty in 2005.

Father Ly is a founding member of Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy movement launched last April. He is also a member of the Progression Party.

Leading members of both groups have been detained in recent months, our reporter adds, in what appears to have been a concerted drive against opponents of the communist government.

An envoy from the Vatican raised the case of Father Ly with the authorities during a visit to Vietnam earlier this month, but the envoy would not say what Vietnam's response was.

State media has accused Father Ly and other pro-democracy activists of trying to undermine the Communist Party by forming illegal parties to field candidates in National Assembly elections in May.

Only the Communist Party is allowed to stand, although a small number of seats are reserved for non-party members.

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