Vietnam on Wednesday freed a U.S.-trained human rights lawyer who had served more than three years of a five-year jail sentence he received for “activities aimed at overthrowing” the one-party Communist government, according to family members.
Le Ngoc Anh Dai said her uncle, Le Cong Dinh, 44, had been released early in the morning on Wednesday and although he had lost weight during his ordeal, he was in good spirits knowing that he would be able to spend the Vietnamese New Year with his family members.
“Dinh came home this morning at around 8:30 a.m. He is well, but a little bit thinner. In general, he is OK. This afternoon, we had him undergo a physical exam,” Dai told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“Dinh was very happy because he could come home to celebrate Tet (Lunar New Year) with the family.”
Agence France-Presse’s quoted Dinh’s sister-in-law as saying that the rights lawyer had also been released because his mother’s health was failing.
Dinh—who was detained in June 2009—was one of four democracy activists convicted in January 2010 at a one-day trial in Ho Chi Minh City.
During his trial, Dinh admitted breaking the law by meeting with foreign groups and advocating multiparty democracy.
But he maintained that neither he, nor the three other defendants he was convicted alongside, had any intention to overthrow the government, which does not tolerate dissent.
The group was convicted of offenses connected mainly to sending e-mails and writing articles online criticizing government policies and maintaining connections to exile “reactionary” organizations.
His conviction drew condemnation from numerous governments and international organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the European Union and the U.S. State Department.
Dinh's sentence also included three years of house arrest after his release from prison, and in Vietnam prisoners are generally required to serve their home detention when they are freed from jail early.
Vietnamese authorities have jailed dozens of political dissidents since launching a crackdown on freedom of expression at the end of 2009, many of them under Article 79 of the Vietnamese Penal Code for “aiming to overthrow the government.”
A court in Vietnam on Monday sentenced 22 activists to jail terms ranging from 12 years to life in prison under Article 79 and early last month, another court convicted 14 activists, including Catholics, students, and bloggers, under similar charges. Nearly all of the latter group were ordered jailed for between three and 13 years in prison.
International rights organizations and the United Nations have repeatedly criticized Article 79, which makes no distinction between violent acts and the exercise of peaceful expression, and which they say has been used in the past as a pretext to repress and silence democratic voices.
Last week, the authorities deported Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese-American origin, after detaining him for nine months without trial on charges of subversion and of being a member of the U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.