A priest, who has spent some 17 years in prison over the past three decades for advocating greater human rights in the one-party state, has been released yesterday.

The archdiocese of Hue announced that Fr. Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly, 64, was driven in an ambulance back to the city yesterday at 5 PM. He was released at 4 in the morning from the state prison of Ba Sao in North Vietnam. He had to stay at a police transit location in Hue for more than 3 hours to be threatened not to involve in “any ant-government activities” before arriving at the bishopric of Hue.

Fr. Ly was reportedly paroled at the request of his family and Hue archdiocese for medical reason.

The prominent priest was first jailed for his criticism of government policies on religion in the late 1970’s, and has already spent some 17 years as a prisoner of conscience, for calling for respect for human rights.

He had served an eight year sentence in Ba Sao prison, Ha Nam province in northern Viet Nam since March 2007. For most of this time he has been held in solitary confinement, and has suffered from high blood pressure and other health problems. In the last ten months he experienced several bouts of ill-health, including temporary loss of movement on one side of his body. The prison authorities have neither provided a proper diagnosis nor adequate medical treatment. As a result of the neglect, his health has been rapidly deteriorating in the last few months as reported by his sister who'd last seen him in early February of this year.

Father Ly had been receiving medical treatment in Prison Hospital 198, administered by the Ministry of Public Security in Ha Noi, since his stroke, which caused paralysis on one side. His family reports that while he has regained some movement, he remains partially paralysed.

This year Viet Nam rejected important recommendations made by states under the Universal Periodic Review process, including amending or repealing national security provisions of the Penal Code inconsistent with international law; to remove other restrictions on dissent, debate, political opposition, and freedoms of expression and assembly; and to release prisoners of conscience.

On Dec 11 last year, Catholics in Vietnam were dismayed to learn that the Vietnamese authorities returned Father Ly to prison on the same day that the President of Viet Nam, Nguyen Minh Triet, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Holy See, a gesture condemned by Amnesty International and other right groups.

In his first statement made to Radio Free Asia, Fr. Ly reiterated that he has neither accepted his sentence nor he agreed with the term "criminal" as referred by the government nor. He insists to be called "prisoner of war"