[JURIST] The Vietnamese government has announced plans to release 8,000 prisoners, including religious activists and political dissidents, as part of its annual amnesty accompanying Tet, the Lunar New Year, which falls on February 9. The government releases a number of prisoners every year as part of the Tet celebration. Notably among those freed this year will be Roman Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly and Dr. Nguyen Dan Que [Amnesty International profiles], two of the government's most prominent critics. Dr. Que was arrested in 2003 after posting articles on the Internet criticizing the Communist Party's control of the media. Father Ly was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison for urging the United States not to ratify its trade agreement with Vietnam unless Hanoi improved its record on religious freedom. Amnesty International [official site] notes that Vietnam has not released prominent political prisoners since the 1990s, and credited international efforts with helping to effectuate their release. Last year, the US placed Vietnam on a list of countries with opressive religious regimes with Iran and North Korea. The US will decide on whether to impose sanctions on Vietnam by March 15. Some see the release of Father Ly as a gesture by Vietnam aimed at avoiding US sanctions. VOA has more.