Page last updated at 20:28 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

Vietnam releases dissident priest Nguyen Van Ly

Nguyen Van Ly (file image from 2006)
Father Ly has spent more than 15 years in prison since 1977

One of Vietnam's high-profile human rights activists has been released from prison, five years before the end of his sentence.

Nguyen Van Ly, 63, suffered two strokes in 2009 that left him partly paralysed, and Western governments had demanded repeatedly that he be freed.

His nephew told the BBC he was now back at home in the central city of Hue.

Father Ly was sentenced to eight years of prison in 2007 for disseminating anti-government propaganda.

His trial made news headlines as he tried to read out a poem criticising Vietnam's communist authorities and was muzzled by police.

He has spent more than 15 years in prison since 1977. In 2009 a group of 37 US senators wrote to Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triet, calling for his release.

The Roman Catholic Father Ly was a founding member of Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy movement launched in 2006.

It is unclear if his release is final or merely for medical treatment. US embassy officials said they had seen reports indicating Father Ly was released in order to seek medical treatment.

It comes just a few days after the freeing of another key activist in Bloc 84-06, the lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan, and has been welcomed by democracy campaigners.

Vietnam has jailed 16 democracy activists in recent months .

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