Sentence reduced for protesting Catholic villager in Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam - A Catholic villager convicted of causing a public disorder last year during a protest over a burial in central Vietnam had his sentence reduced on appeal and was released, a court said Thursday.

Nguyen Huu Minh, 48, was accused of inciting villagers to attack police and cause public disorder in the May protests in Con Dau, which occurred when villagers tried to perform a Catholic burial in a cemetery the government had condemned for development into an ecotourism resort.

Minh was originally sentenced to a year in prison, but Nguyen Thanh, the judge in his appeal Wednesday before the Danang City People's Court, said he reduced the sentence to nine months because Minh had shown "repentance" while in prison.

He was released Wednesday because he had been detained for nine months.

Six people were convicted for their involvement in the protest, which involved hundreds of villagers. Another defendant was sentenced to nine months in prison, and the rest were given nine months of house arrest. All have now been released.

Villagers' relatives this summer told the US Congress that police had beaten villagers in the protest, killing at least one.

The official Viet Nam News newspaper charged that US congressmen had made "fabricated" statements about the clashes that "aim to smear Vietnam and to deceive US public opinion."