BANGKOK�The Vietnamese authorities have released an elderly dissident after handing him a 19-month jail term for publishing writings critical of the communist regime on the Internet.

Tran Khue, 68, was sentenced by the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court after being found guilty of "abusing his democratic rights" to undermine the state, a court official told reporters. But he was freed after time already spent in detention was taken into account.

Khue was placed under house arrest in September 2001 following his involvement in attempts to form an association to campaign against widespread corruption within the ruling Communist Party and the state apparatus.

He is the latest in a series of writers and intellectuals to be prosecuted in an apparent bid by the authorities to prevent Vietnam's tiny but vocal dissident community from using the Internet to air its views.

Proceedings against former Army colonel and military historian Pham Que Duong will take place Wednesday in Hanoi, on identical charges. The two were initially charged with espionage, but the charges were reduced.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders earlier this week said the criminal action against the two dissidents was a "mockery of justice", while the Committee to Protect Journalists called for their unconditional release.

Political analysts welcomed the news of Khue's release, however, saying the government had probably responded to international pressure in the two cases.

Duong was taken into custody with his wife and three others on Dec. 28, 2002, at the Ho Chi Minh City train station. They were preparing to return to Hanoi, according to sources in Vietnam and the United States.

They had been visiting Khue, who had been under house arrest for his pro-democracy activities.

On Dec. 29, Khue, a specialist in classical Chinese and Vietnamese, was arrested at his Ho Chi Minh City home. Security officers confiscated his computer and two floppy disks.

Duong and Khue had recently emerged as de facto spokesmen for the dissident movement inside Vietnam, in the North and South of the country, respectively.

Shortly after their arrest, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said the two men had been "caught red-handed while carrying out activities that seriously violate Vietnamese laws and will be tried in accordance with state laws."

Both Duong and Khue were among 21 signatories, many of them former Communist Party members and military veterans, on a petition sent to Vietnam's parliament on August 2002 calling for democratic reforms and a fight against corruption. #####


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.