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US Senator visits imprisoned Vietnamese priest January 09, 2004

US Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, visited a jailed Vietnamese Catholic priest on Thursday, and said he believed the Communist country was taking steps to improve its human rights record.

"I think the Vietnamese government is starting to tune into concerns about religious freedom," Brownback said. The senator has been a harsh critic of Vietnam, as well as other countries that violate basic human rights. He was on a fact-finding trip to examine the country's record in that area, especially with regard to religion.

Brownback was visiting Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly, 58, who has been in prison for "undermining national unity" since 2001 when he wrote a letter to the US Congress urging a delay in the ratification of a bilateral trade agreement because of serious violations of human rights, especially religious freedom.

The senator said the priest appeared to be in good health and that they mostly discussed Ly's views of religious persecution in his country. Brownback said the priest did not raise any requests for clemency nor ask about his relatives. Two of his nephews have been jailed for publicly demonstrating in support of their uncle.

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