Vietnamese authorities are set to release a jailed democracy activist, according to his sister.
U.S.-trained human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, 42, has served 22 months of a five-year prison sentence he received in January 2010 for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”
He could have faced the death penalty for subversion.
Dinh’s sister Anh confirmed that her brother would be released “soon” and would be sent into exile in the U.S.
“Yes, he will be going to the U.S. … I’ve heard from both the U.S. Embassy and the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security. The police have also told my brother,” she said.
“I don’t know when he will be leaving yet. I think it will be soon, but I can’t say for sure.”
Dinh was one of three cases raised with a Vietnamese delegation by U.S. officials during the 16th round of bilateral talks on human rights held in Washington in early November.
The other two cases dealt with the detention of Vietnamese blogger Dieu Cay and Catholic activist Father Nguyen Van Ly.
During his trial, Dinh admitted breaking the law by meeting with foreign groups and advocating multiparty democracy.
But he maintained that neither he, nor the three other defendants he was convicted alongside, had any intention to overthrow the Vietnamese government.
“During my studies overseas, I was influenced by Western attitudes toward democracy, freedom, and human rights,” he said at the time.
The group was convicted of offenses connected mainly to sending e-mails and writing articles online criticizing government policies and maintaining connections to exile “reactionary” organizations.
Since his conviction, numerous governments and international organizations have demanded Dinh’s release, including Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the U.S. State Department.
The decision to release Dinh comes just weeks after officials from the U.S. State Department and Vietnam held an annual human rights dialogue in Washington and amidst calls in recent months for Hanoi to allow its citizens greater freedoms.
In its annual Human Rights Report, released in April this year, the State Department noted that Vietnamese authorities “increased measures to limit citizens' privacy rights and freedom of the press, speech, assembly, movement, and association” in 2010.
It said Vietnamese could not change their government and were prohibited from organizing political opposition movements, while authorities “increased measures to limit citizens' privacy rights and freedom of the press, speech, assembly, movement, and association.”
In September, more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers sent a letter urging the newly-appointed American Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear to address concerns such as the rule of law, Internet freedom, and the suppression of political dissent in the communist-ruled nation.
In the letter, the congressmen said that Shear’s appointment comes at “a pivotal time as Vietnam pursues economic gains through its bilateral relations with the U.S. but continues to fail on what the United States regards as a priority: respect for the fundamental human rights of its citizens.”
But despite differences on issues of human rights, the U.S. has been actively courting Vietnam in recent months in an effort to counter aggressive territorial claims and economic influence by China in Southeast Asia.
And Washington has also recently taken steps to back off of earlier criticism of Hanoi’s rights record.
In September, the U.S. State Department did not include Vietnam in its annual "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPC) blacklist of top violators of religious freedom, as demanded by rights groups.
Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner indicated that the situation in Vietnam, which was on the CPC blacklist from 2004 to 2006, would continue to be monitored.
The independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a congressional watchdog, had asked President Barack Obama's administration to reinstate Vietnam on the blacklist, saying the communist government there severely restricts religious practice and "brutally" represses those who challenge its authority.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has accused Vietnam of mounting a sophisticated and sustained attack on online dissent that includes detaining and intimidating anti-government bloggers.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 165th out of 178 countries on its press freedom index and listed the country as an “Enemy of the Internet” in a report issued in March this year.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.