Vietnam releases detained US pro-democracy activist

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/12/11/asia/AS-GEN-Vietnam-US-Dissidents.php

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam has released a detained U.S. pro-democracy activist and sent him back to the United States, state television reported Tuesday.

Truong Van Ba, whose Americanized name is Leon Truong, was released from jail Tuesday afternoon and later departed from Ho Chi Minh City’s airport to the United States.

Vietnam state television showed Ba leaving jail and checking in at the airport.

Ba is a member of a U.S.-based pro-democracy group called Viet Tan, which Vietnam regards as a terrorist organization. Viet Tan says it supports nonviolent political change in Vietnam, and the U.S. government said it has seen no evidence that the group has terrorist aims.

“My father is on the plane right now and he’s coming back home,” Lauren Truong, Truong’s daughter, said by telephone from Washington, D.C. “I’m very happy and excited.”

Truong was heading to his home in Hawaii, his daughter said.

Truong is one of four U.S. citizens who were detained in Vietnam last month on unspecified charges.

Arrested with Truong on Nov. 17 was U.S. resident Nguyen Quoc Quan and a French citizen, a Thai national and two Vietnamese.

Quan is still being detained in Vietnam, where authorities say he entered the country with a forged Cambodian passport.

Two other U.S. citizens being held in Vietnam were detained at the Ho Chi Minh City airport on Nov. 23 after Vietnamese authorities alleged that they entered the country with a firearm in their luggage.

U.S. officials say they have seen no evidence that the two sets of arrests are related, and Viet Tan says the U.S. citizens arrested at the airport do not belong to their group.

While the Vietnamese government had not issued formal charges against the detainees, the Vietnamese media said Truong and Quan were being investigated for terrorism.

Speaking to reporters in Hanoi earlier Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak said he had seen no evidence linking them to terrorism and called on the Vietnamese government to explain their arrests.

“To date, we have received no formal notification of the charges against these individuals,” Michalak said.

Michalak also said he had seen no evidence that Viet Tan is a terrorist organization.

“If there is evidence that this group is engaged in terrorist activities, I would like to see it,” he said.

Arrested on Nov. 23 were U.S. citizens Nguyen Thi Thinh and Le Van Phan.

During an interview with U.S. Embassy officials, Thinh denied that there was a weapon in her luggage, Michalak said.

Viet Tan says it promotes peaceful democratic change in Vietnam. The group says the six people arrested in Ho Chi Minh City were circulating pamphlets promoting nonviolent political change.

“The United States will protest any actions taken to silence those engaged in the peaceful expression of political views,” Michalak said.

Vietnamese government officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the cases.

Meanwhile, Vietnam sentenced four members of an independent trade union to up to 4 1/2 years in prison for defaming the Communist state, a court official said Tuesday.

The four were members of the United Workers-Farmers Organization of Vietnam, an unapproved union working on behalf of farmers whose land has been taken by the government for development.

Those sentenced were Doan Van Dien, Tran Thi Le Hong, Doan Huy Chuong and Phung Quang Quyen, court official Nguyen Minh Toan said.

The four were convicted of arranging or participating in interviews with foreign radio stations in which they accused the government of repressing strikes and arresting demonstrators, he said.

They were convicted of “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe on the interests of the state,” Toan said.

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