Prominent Vietnamese rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and a fellow member of the Brotherhood for Democracy were released from prison late on Thursday and put on a plane from Hanoi to Germany, members of his banned group and an exile pro-democracy group said.
The release and exile of Dai and colleague Le Thu Ha came about two months after they and four other activists were given lengthy jail sentences for conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the state under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Dai was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years of house arrest on April 5, while Ha was sentenced to nine years imprisonment.
According to Viet Tan, an unsanctioned Vietnamese pro-democracy party, Dai, Ha, and Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh, will arrive in Frankfurt Friday morning on a Vietnam Airlines flight from Hanoi.
There was no immediate confirmation of the release from the Vietnamese government or state media, but fellow members of the Brotherhood for Democracy in Vietnam confirmed to RFA's Vietnamese service that the pair were released and exiled.
“We are heartened that Nguyen Van Dai does not have to endure more years of prison,” said Duy Hoang, spokesperson for Viet Tan.
“However his and other members of the (Brotherhood for Democracy’s) imprisonment by the Vietnamese authorities was arbitrary and illegal in the first place. Nguyen Van Dai should be able to return to Vietnam as a free person at the time of his choosing,” added Hoang.
Dai, Ha and the four others were accused of affiliation with the Brotherhood for Democracy, a group founded by Dai in 2013 to defend human rights and promote democratic ideals in Vietnam.
All have campaigned for victims of injustice, advocated for religious freedom, and supported political prisoners and their families.
In all, the activists were sentenced to 66 years in jail and 17 years under house arrest.
Dai was arrested on December 16, 2015 as he was about to give a talk on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On June 4, an appeals court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi upheld the jail terms handed down on April 5 to the four others: citizen journalists Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc, and Nguyen Bac Truyen.
But Dai and Ha had refused to appeal their sentences, citing distrust of Vietnam’s courts.
Dai’s case was cited by 90 Vietnam-related NGOs on Wednesday in a letter urging the European Union to reject a proposed free trade pact with Vietnam until it releases it political prisoners and upholds freedom of speech and other rights.
“Without these enabling freedoms, the EU would risk trade with a state that represses citizens who advocate for environmental protection and respect for human rights including worker rights,” said the letter to Brussels.
London-based Amnesty International, which had called on the government to drop the charges against the six activists, said that at least 97 prisoners of conscience are currently being held in Vietnam’s prisons, where many are subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.
Hanoi maintains there are no prisoners of conscience in the one-party communist country, and that Dai and the other activists convicted on April 5 had violated the country’s law and were tried accordingly.