Fresh from her release from prison in Hanoi, a Vietnamese pro-democracy activist said Friday that she would continue to expose rights abuses in the one-party communist state she calls "hell."
"My first impression [here in the U.S.] was that I just came from hell to heaven, and until now I still can't believe that this is true," Tran Khai Thanh Thuy said in an interview on arrival in the United States.
Thuy, a 50-year-old journalist and novelist, was deported to San Francisco with her teenage daughter on Friday following her release by the Vietnamese authorities on humanitarian grounds.
It is believed to be the first such release in recent years.
Thuy was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in February last year on an assault charge, which she called "a fabrication and total slander."
Her husband, Do Ba Tan was also jailed on a similar charge.
"My passion is writing, I'm a straightforward person. I think honesty is necessary for a society to develop," Thuy said.
"I don’t regret and, even if I had a second chance at life, I would still do what I have done," said Thuy, who is affiliated with the U.S.-based opposition group Viet Tan, known as the Vietnam Reform Party.
Viet Tan calls itself nonviolent and pro-democracy, but the communist state calls it a "terrorist group."
Thuy said she would not have left Vietnam if she was not imprisoned for her writings.
"I would want to stay to continue my fight," she said, likening writers able to express their views to "free birds."
Thuy has been active in the dissident community since 2006, when she started organizations to help workers and assist farmers whose land had been confiscated by the government.
She worked for many years in Vietnam's state-controlled media before writing for an online pro-democracy newspaper and publishing a blog.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch last year honored Thuy and five other Vietnamese writers with its annual Hellman/Hammet award for their courage in the face of political persecution.
Viet Tan said she had endured "a violent arrest and a deeply unjust trial" and was denied medical care in prison while her health deteriorated. Thuy suffers from diabetes.
She asked her compatriots to pursue "real freedom and not a fake one."
"Their road will be very hard. Our sacrifice will start a fire desiring freedom and human rights," she said.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.