West Los Angeles: A leading Vietnamese dissident freed by Hanoi was mobbed by supporters late Tuesday as he arrived in the United States, vowing to fight for democracy and other detainees in his home country.
Nguyen Van Hai, one of Vietnam’s most prominent bloggers whose case was raised by President Barack Obama, was freed two years after being jailed for 12 years by a court in southern Vietnam on charges of “anti-state propaganda”.
“This is a result of the victory of democratic values,” he said as dozens of supporters crowded around him at Los Angeles international airport, where he arrived from Vietnam via Hong Kong.
“This is the most effective message that we can convey to other political prisoners who are still in communist prisons ... that they are not alone,” he said in Vietnamese, translated by one of many activists there to greet him.
His release was announced earlier by the State Department in Washington, which welcomed Hanoi’s decision “to release this prisoner of conscience” and said it was Hai’s decision to travel to the United States.
But Hai — alias Dieu Cay — claimed otherwise.
“This trip is the decision of the US government,” he said, adding: “The US government wants me to become a citizen of the US but I don’t understand why the Vietnamese government wants to deport me.”
Speaking to Vietnamese American supporters who greeted him, he added: “I come here and I will fight for my return, not only for my return but for the return of all of us here. So we can all return.”
The news came only weeks after Washington partially lifted a 40-year ban on arms sales to Hanoi, citing some “modest” progress in human rights as one of the reasons for reviewing a prohibition in place since the Vietnam War.
Hai, who went on hunger strike at least twice to protest his jailing, has been in detention since September 2008, after first being sentenced to two-and-a-half years for tax fraud.
Hai’s former wife, Duong Thi Tan, told Radio Free Asia that he was not given any choice about his release and deportation, but was taken straight from his jail cell to the airport and put on a plane to the United States. “Hai could not call us at home,” she said.
“In fact, they did not let the family know anything about his release. There was no signal or notice. They deported him to exile, they did not release him just like what they said.”
Hai’s son Nguyen Tri Dung, who spoke briefly to his father when he was in transit in Hong Kong, said his father had little choice but to leave the country.
“If he stay in Vietnam, he have to stay in prison... If he could be free in Vietnam, he would have stayed,” he told AFP.
Dozens of peaceful political activists have been jailed since Vietnam began a new crackdown on dissent in late 2009. Vietnam bans private media, and all newspapers and television channels are state-run.
But earlier this month, the US partly lifted its ban on arms sales to its former foe to help boost defenses in the tense South China Sea.
Some 40 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade passes through the sea, which is claimed in part by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia, as well as China and the Philippines.
At the time State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “Vietnam will need to make additional progress on human rights for the United States to consider a full lift of the ban on lethal defence articles in the future.”
State Department officials have presented a list of dissidents to Hanoi whose cases they are closely monitoring. They said that, in the past months, 11 dissidents had been freed.
They included French-trained lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, the son of a Vietnamese revolutionary leader, who was sentenced in April 2011 to seven years in prison for “anti-state activity.”