Prominent jailed Vietnamese dissident Nguyen Van Hai has refused to make an official application to the authorities seeking his release from prison, insisting instead that they explain the reasons for his initial arrest and demanding that he be freed without condition, family members said Thursday.
Hai, who is also known by his pen name Dieu Cay, was handed a 12-year prison sentence in September 2012 for conducting “anti-state propaganda” amid a crackdown on bloggers in the one-party state after his online articles slammed communist rule and highlighted alleged abuses by the authorities.
Arrested in April 2008 after helping to lead anti-China protests, Hai was sentenced in 2009 to 30 months in prison on a charge of tax evasion but was not freed after completing his term, and was then charged with carrying out propaganda against the state.
An appeals court upheld his sentence in December 2012, and authorities have repeatedly transferred him from one prison to another.
Family members learned of the invitation by the authorities to Hai to sign a petition for release when he phoned his son, Nguyen Tri Dung, this week from jail, Hai’s ex wife Duong Thi Tan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“He asked about the family and said that police had asked him to write a petition asking for release before his prison term ends,” Tan said.
“He said that he told them he is innocent and that his arrest was illegal,” Tan said, adding, “So if he writes anything now, it will be a request for an explanation of the reasons for his arrest and a demand that he be immediately freed.”
“He doesn’t need to ask for anything from anyone. He simply demands his freedom.”
Family hopes for his release
Following a visit to Vietnam in early August by U.S. Senators John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse, rumors have spread that Hai may be freed from jail on Vietnam’s Independence Day on Sept. 2, Tan said.
“But with this regime, I won’t believe this is true until Hai is standing right in front of us,” she said.
“We have heard of other cases before when it was thought that some people might be freed, and then they weren’t. We have a lot of hope, but we can’t put our faith in this.”
Hai’s case has been adopted by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and raised by U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration has called on Hanoi to release all political prisoners in Vietnam.
On July 27, 2013, Hai ended a five-week-long hunger strike at Prison No. 6 in Vietnam’s northern Nghe An province after judicial authorities agreed to investigate his complaints over abuses in prison.
These included attempts by prison officials to force him to sign a document admitting guilt in the charges for which he was convicted, Tan said.
Paris-based press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders lists Vietnam as an “Enemy of the Internet” and the third-largest prison in the world for netizens.
Vietnam is second only to China for the number of journalists jailed, according to the annual prison census of the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which counts 16 out of 18 Vietnamese reporters currently behind bars as bloggers.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.