Hanoi - A Vietnamese Catholic dissident released from a jail where he was imprisoned on political charges said Tuesday that he was in precarious health with a brain tumor. Father Nguyen Van Ly, 63, was released from prison in Hanoi Monday and taken to his home in Hue by taxi. He was sentenced in 2007 to eight years for "spreading propaganda against the Vietnamese state."

"I have always affirmed that I am not a criminal offender, but a prisoner of conscience," Ly said.

Ly was among the founders of Bloc 8406, a group of dissidents and activists who issued a manifesto calling for multiparty democracy and freedom of expression and religion in 2006.

His sister, Nguyen Van Hieu, said Ly had suffered three strokes while in prison, and was released on a one-year medical probation.

Western human rights organizations welcomed the news of Ly's release while condemning an ongoing crackdown on other democracy activists, religious figures, writers and internet bloggers.

Sophie Richardson, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, called Ly's release a step in the right direction, but said he was among hundreds of Vietnamese "prisoners of conscience" who "should never have been arrested in the first place."

"The US government should still put Vietnam back on its blacklist of religious freedom violators," Richardson said.

Ly's imprisonment had long been an irritant to relations between Vietnam and the US as well as the European Union.

A group of US senators sent a letter in July to President Nguyen Minh Triet calling for Ly's immediate release.

(Source: http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/314286,vietnam-releases-catholic-democracy-activist-for-health-reasons.html)