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1/28/11 Vietnam (JakartaGlobe) – Two Vietnamese Catholics, among a group which United States congressmen feared were tortured after a land dispute with authorities, have been freed from jail on appeal, a court said Thursday.

The villagers were sentenced in October to terms of 12 months and nine months respectively, while several others received suspended jail terms.

All were convicted of disturbing public order and opposing civic officials after what residents described as a clash between villagers and a large group of police in Con Dau Catholic parish, near the central city of Danang.

The incident occurred last May when they tried to bury an 82-year-old woman at a Catholic cemetery, in a case which sparked concern from the US embassy.

Some congressmen also said they believed reports were credible that the villagers had been tortured and physically abused by police and security agents.

After the appeal in Danang on Wednesday, Phan Thi Nhan, 45, and Nguyen Huu Minh, 46, were immediately released from custody, said a court official who asked not to be named.

“Madam Nhan and (Mr) Minh benefited from the state’s leniency after having admitted their erroneous acts and repenting,” the official said, adding that the court confirmed nine-month suspended sentences against several others.

The villagers’ US-based relatives testified about the Con Dau incident before a congressional panel last year.

There has been a long-running series of church-state land disputes in Vietnam, although in this case the cemetery was not owned by the church itself.

A government spokeswoman said earlier that the case had nothing to do with religion and the cemetery was in an area widely-publicised as a residential development site.

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