23rd May, 2016

Veteran dissident and Catholic priest, Fr Nguyen Van Ly, was reportedly released from prison in Vietnam ahead of an official visit to the country this week by US President Barack Obama.

Church officials reportedly said that Fr Ly, who has spent the past 20 years in jail or under house arrest, was returned to the Archdiocese of Hue on Friday morning following his release from Nam Ha jail.

Pictures accompanying the announcement on the archdiocese's website showed the 70-year-old, who has suffered several health crises while imprisoned, being welcomed to the city of Hue.

The US State Department welcomed the priest's release with spokeswoman Gabrielle Price saying they had consistently called for Fr Ly's release and that of other political prisoners in Vietnam.

"We remain deeply concerned for all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam," she said. "We call on the government to release unconditionally all prisoners of conscience and allow all Vietnamese to express their political views peacefully without fear of retribution."

Human rights groups have appealed to President Obama, who arrived in Vietnam on Sunday night, to press for the release of political prisoners during his visit.

- DAVID ADAMS