Vietnamese authorities have freed a young labor activist in poor health after she had served four years of a seven-year sentence for leafleting in support of striking footwear workers, and just months after her mother had toured the U.S. and Europe to lobby for her release.
No reason was given for the early release of Do Thi Minh Hanh, who was arrested in February 2010 along with two other activists before her imprisonment eight months later during which she suffered beatings at the hands of prison guards.
“Hanh told us yesterday that the police would bring her home,” Hanh’s father Do Ty told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Friday, speaking from his home in Di Linh in Lam Dong province in Vietnam’s central highlands.
“The call came at night, so she might be home tomorrow,” he said.
“She sounded very happy,” Do Ty said, adding that Hanh had told him she would soon be released when he visited her in prison 20 days before.
“Her health has been better, though,” he said. “When she gets home she will rest and get a full checkup.”
Hanh and the two other activists , Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung and Doan Huy Chuong, were accused of inciting workers to go on strike at the My Phong footwear company in Tra Vinh province in southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, where thousands protested in January and February 2010 for better working conditions and higher wages.
Hanh was sentenced on Oct. 27 that year to seven years in prison on charges of disturbing public order and “acting against the people’s administration,” according to Article 89 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Hung received a nine-year term, while Chuong was sentenced like Hanh to a term of seven years.
Hanh was repeatedly beaten and frequently shackled while confined, her mother Tran Thi Ngoc Minh told a U.S. congressional commission during a visit in January 2014 to call for international support to press for Hanh’s release.
When Hanh was arrested, “I [saw] the police beat her, causing serious injuries to her mouth and bleeding all over her face,” Minh said, testifying before a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Hanh was beaten again by guards at the court where she was tried, and later by “common criminals” who had been urged by police to attack her.
In an effort to “intimidate” her family, prison authorities later transferred Hanh and another prisoner to a jail at Thanh Xuan in Hanoi, more than 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) away, Minh said.
“Both of them, despite being seriously ill, were handcuffed and shackled in the van like animals,” Minh said. “They lost consciousness several times.”
Despite harsh treatment at the hands of authorities, prisoners of conscience in Vietnam are “patriots,” Minh said, speaking to RFA in January after the hearing.
“They dare to stand up for human rights in Vietnam,” she said.
Reported by An Nguyen and Gwen Ha for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.