A prominent Vietnamese former political prisoner who received a presidential amnesty two weeks ago has died of cancer, according to his family, in what an international rights group said was a tragedy that should be a “wake-up call” for the country.
Dinh Dang Dinh, 50, an environmental activist and blogger who had spent two years in jail on anti-state charges, died Thursday night at his home in southern Vietnam’s Dak Nong province, his daughter Dinh Thi Phuong Thao said.
“My father died at 9:35 p.m. We were all here—my two siblings, myself, my mother, aunts, and uncles,” she told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“He passed away in peace, with no pain,” she said, adding that for the past two weeks he had been too weak to speak.
Dinh had been hospitalized since January, after being diagnosed with stomach cancer while serving a six-year prison term for “conducting propaganda against the state.”
After receiving a temporary suspension of his sentence in February, last month he was ordered permanently released in an amnesty signed by President Truong Tan Sang.
But the amnesty, which his family had asked for months earlier, came too late to make much difference in his chances of survival, his wife told RFA at the time.
The amnesty also followed repeated calls for his release from rights groups and foreign diplomats.
Last years 'stolen'
Global advocacy group Amnesty International issued a statement Friday expressing its condolences over his death and demanding the release of scores of political prisoners still held in Vietnam.
“The tragedy of Dinh Dang Dinh’s passing should be a wake-up call for Viet Nam,” the group’s Asia-Pacific director Rupert Abbott said.
“It is a tragedy that the Vietnamese authorities stole the last years of Dinh Dang Dinh’s life, locking him up away from his loved ones,” he said.
The group called on the Vietnamese government to release all of the country’s political prisoners, saying that, like Dinh, all had “done no more than peacefully express their opinion” and many were held under harsh conditions.
A former high school chemistry teacher and army officer, Dinh was arrested in October 2011 after starting an online petition against a politically sensitive bauxite mining project given to a Chinese developer in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
He was sentenced in August 2012 under Article 88 of the penal code—a charge rights groups say Hanoi routinely uses to silence dissent.
Relatives called his sentence “a serious abuse of human rights,” saying he was jailed for “telling the truth” about issues of concern to Vietnam.
He was diagnosed while in the An Phuoc prison in Binh Duong province, where relatives said he was denied access to proper treatment.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.