HANOI (AFP)–Communist Vietnam has freed a French-Vietnamese journalist and political activist after 25 days’ detention, the fourth foreign dissident released this week, state media reported Thursday.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, 51, a member of the U.S.-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), which is banned in the Asian country, was arrested along with several U.S., Thai and Vietnamese citizens in Ho Chi Minh City last month.
Van was deported in the presence of French consular officials and placed on a Paris-bound flight at the southern port city’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport late Wednesday, said the Vietnam News Agency (VNA).
The VNA report said Van, a reporter for the “Democratic Vietnam” newspaper and “New Horizon” radio, both banned in Vietnam, “regularly wrote articles with distorted information to undermine the Vietnamese state.” Van was arrested on Nov. 17, along with two U.S. citizens, a Thai, and two Vietnamese nationals in the southern port city, when security forces found them preparing Viet Tan pro- democracy pamphlets.
The arrests triggered protests from the U.S., France and Vietnamese dissident groups worldwide.
Vietnam has labeled Viet Tan and its members terrorists and accused them of plotting the overthrow of the one-party state, but the California-based group says it supports only nonviolent political change.
U.S. ambassador Michael Michalak, in a briefing he gave Tuesday, said he saw no evidence linking the group to terrorism.
Hours after he spoke, Vietnam freed three U.S. citizens – Leon Truong, as well as Nguyen Thi Thinh and Le Van Phan, a couple arrested on Nov. 23 at the city’s airport, accused of carrying a handgun in their luggage.
Also arrested on Nov. 17 were another Vietnamese-American Viet Tan member, California-based Nguyen Quoc Quan, accused of having entered Vietnam on a fake Cambodian passport, and Thai national Somsak Khunmi.
A southern Vietnamese court, meanwhile, has jailed three activists charged with slandering the communist government, and police also arrested one Buddhist monk for pro-democracy activism, state media reported.
The Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People’s Army) daily said a Dong Nai court Tuesday sentenced Nguyen Van Ngoc and Trinh Quoc Thao to four years in jail each and Truong Minh Nguyet to two years, for spreading anti-state propaganda.
The three, arrested in June, had distributed “reactionary propaganda documents,” violating article 258 of the criminal code, the report said.
Nguyet is a member of an association of former political prisoners, said a US- based pro-democracy activist, who added that all three people jailed had discussed Vietnam’s political and economic situation on the Internet.
A Dong Nai court earlier this week also jailed four members of the banned United Workers-Farmers Organization for “spreading distorted information to undermine the state.” In the southern provincial capital of Bac Lieu, police said they arrested a Buddhist monk on December 2 for inciting people against the state in leaflets and speaking on US-based pro-democracy live radio broadcasts, reports said.
State media identified him as Huynh Van Ba, with the Buddist name of Thich Thien Minh, and said police confiscated documents with “reactionary content against the state,” a computer, three cellphones and several SIM cards.
Another monk, identified as Thich Nhat Ba, with the civilian name of Ho Buu Hoa, and three other people – Nguyen Thu Tram, Nguyen Thi Hanh and Tran Thi Ngoc Tuyet – were fined and expelled from the town, the report said.