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Vietnamese authorities have cut the sentence handed down to a man who was convicted of espionage after he posted an essay on democracy on the Internet, RFA's Vietnamese service reports. Pham Hong Son, a 35-year-old doctor, was sentenced on June 18 to 13 years in jail and a further three years of house arrest.

The case caused an international outcry and resulted in increased pressure on the Vietnamese government to improve its human rights record. While the Supreme Court of Appeal in Hanoi cut Son's jail term to five years, it is likely that he will still have to serve the three years' house arrest.

"Really, I feel a little happy because people responsible in the case really listened to the opinions [of the defence lawyer]," Son's wife, Vu Thuy Ha, said after the decision. But she added: "I'm not happy because my husband must be declared innocent."

The Vietnamese government has come under great pressure from the international community to overturn the sentence, which they said was intended to silence online political dissent.

Diplomats in Hanoi said the decision almost certainly came as a result of that pressure.

The court official said Son was still guilty of espionage, which theoretically carries a minimum 12 years in jail, but that the decision to reduce his sentence was based on "mitigating circumstances."

Son was initially charged with spying because he communicated by telephone and e-mail with "political opportunists" in Vietnam and overseas and used e-mail to send anti-government and anti-Communist Party documents abroad.

He was arrested in Hanoi on March 27, 2002, a few weeks after translating and publishing online a feature titled "What is democracy?", extracted from the U.S. State Department's web site.

Son was the fifth dissident in the last year to be arrested and charged with crimes relating to e-mail communication or other Internet activity.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said through a spokesman: "We welcome the reduction, but he should never have been jailed in the first place for his actions." The embassy called again for Son's immediate release.

Amnesty International issued a statement in which it called the sentence reduction "unprecedented" but added "...we are dismayed that Dr Pham Hong Son remains in prison for the peaceful expression of his political beliefs."


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