Fewer than half a dozen of the estimated 15,000 Vietnamese prisoners to be released as part of a mass amnesty next week are believed to be political prisoners, reports say, indicating that Vietnam’s authoritarian rulers continue to be wary of freeing the dissidents.
In one of the country’s largest mass pardons in years, the 15,466 inmates including 1,842 women and 16 foreigners will be released on the Sept. 2 national day, officials from President Truong Tan Sang’s office announced Thursday.
Among them are four people convicted on national security charges, state news agency VietNamNet quoted vice minister of public security General Le Quy Vuong as saying.
The news agency gave their names as Duong Duc Phong and Hoang Hung Quyen, both jailed for espionage, and Y Kong Nie and Y Hong Nie, both from Vietnam’s ethnic minority Montagnard-populated Central Highlands region and serving sentences for "undermining unity."
But little is known about the four and none of the country's prominent political prisoners are being released under the amnesty.
Dissident academic Tran Khue said prisoner amnesties like this one can be tracked as an indicator of government attitudes on politically sensitive issues.
“I am watching this amnesty move very closely,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “From looking at the amnesty, people can tell whether the [political] situation will get better or worse.”
“If it were going to be an amnesty that freed political prisoners such as Cu Huy Ha Vu and Le Quoc Quan ..., that would be a good one,” he said.
Quan and Ha Vu, both outspoken lawyers, are among dozens of dissidents and bloggers jailed after speaking out online since the one-party communist state stepped up a crackdown three years ago.
Duong Thi Tan, the ex-wife of blogger Nguyen Van Hai—also known as Dieu Cay—who is serving a 12-year sentence for “conducting propaganda against the state,” said it was rare and difficult for political prisoners held on anti-government charges to receive amnesties.
“Everyone wants freedom, but for those charged with acting against the government, a lot of things are required in order for their sentences to be reduced,” she told RFA.
Rights groups say that nearly 50 activists have been jailed over national security crimes so far this year.
U.S. officials said in June that Vietnam, which is regularly denounced by rights groups for its intolerance of political dissent and systematic violations of freedom of religion, was holding more than 120 political prisoners.
Vietnam typically grants amnesty to inmates on major national holidays, including the Lunar New Year (Tet), and more than 17,000 were released on Sept. 2 last year.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Khanh Nguyen. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.