Updated at 9.40 a.m. EST on 2012-06-09
A prominent Vietnamese pro-democracy campaigner has been released from jail after serving three years for allegedly trying to overthrow the state, saying he once shared a cell with two noted dissidents and that they remain in high spirits.
Le Thang Long, a 45-year-old telecommunications engineer who had conducted research on Vietnamese politics, economy, and social issues, was freed on June 4, six months earlier than scheduled, but his release was publicized only on Thursday by the Democratic Party of Vietnam, a dissident group.
Long, together with U.S.-trained human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, computer programmer Nguyen Tien Trung, and Internet entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, was convicted in January 2010 under Article 79 of Vietnam’s criminal code for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”
Trung was handed a seven-year jail term and Thuc 16 years, while Long and Dinh were given five years each.
Long, whose sentence was trimmed on appeal, told RFA that he once shared a cell with Dinh and Thuc. "We continued to share viewpoints and issues of interest," he said.
"I found their spiritual attitude to be good."
Long said he was treated just like any other prisoner and that his health was "normal."
During the trial, Long recanted confessions made on national television, saying police had coerced them.
Rights groups had criticized their jailings and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
“These people should never have been arrested in the first place, let alone charged and sentenced. The trial allowed no meaningful defense for the accused, demonstrating all too clearly the lack of tolerance for free speech and peaceful dissent, and the court’s lack of independence,” Amnesty International had said.
Charges of attempting to overthrow the government and disseminating anti-state propaganda have been routinely leveled against dissidents in the one-party communist state where political debate is taboo.
On Wednesday, a court in southern Vietnam sentenced a dissident to five years in prison in the latest in a string of convictions of anti-government activists in the authoritarian nation, Agence France-Presse reported.
Phan Ngoc Tuan, 53, was found guilty of spreading anti-state propaganda by the court in Ninh Thuan province, which also ordered him to serve three years under house arrest, a court official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Tuan was charged with distributing anti-state documents and leaflets in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City between April 2010 and his arrest in August 2011.
His prison term will reflect time already served.
According to Kien Thuc, a popular online newspaper, Tuan had received money from "reactionary groups and individuals" to spread documents defaming the ruling Communist Party and the Vietnamese state.
Last week a Vietnamese court rejected appeals by two human rights activists against their jail terms for spreading anti-government propaganda.
Rights groups say the charge is one of many vaguely worded, loosely interpreted national security crimes used to imprison peaceful political and religious dissidents in the communist country.
Reported by Mai Lai of RFA's Vietnamese service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.