Vietnam frees two more political activists

Mon Apr 14, 2014 12:57pm EDT

Vietnamese dissident Nguyen Tien Trung stands between wreaths during a funeral for Hoang Minh Chinh in Hanoi February 16, 2008. REUTERS/Kham

Vietnamese dissident Nguyen Tien Trung stands between wreaths during a funeral for Hoang Minh Chinh in Hanoi February 16, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Kham

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(Reuters) - Vietnam has freed two more political dissidents, making it three activists released in the space of a week, as pressure increases on the communist government to stop jailing its critics.

Nguyen Tien Trung, a 30-year-old blogger, was freed from a prison in southern Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday, his father said. Trung was convicted of subversion, or attempting to "overthrow the people's administration".

Vi Duc Hoi, 56, a former communist party member who became a democracy activist, was released on Friday, London-based rights group Amnesty International confirmed on Monday.

He was jailed for eight years in January 2011, reduced to five on appeal, for conducting propaganda against the state.

Trung's father, Nguyen Tu Tu said it was a positive move by the authorities and hoped more would follow.

"The government said he followed the rules in prison very well, so he was released early," Tu said by telephone.

"But everyone understands, the international community has put a lot pressure on the Vietnamese and this is an important reason why the government has released prisoners like my son ... I hope there will be more."

Foreign governments have repeatedly urged Vietnam to honor international human rights commitments, which it renewed when it won a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council last year. The constitution enshrines freedom of speech.

Arrests and jail terms for Vietnamese dissidents have increased in recent years and early releases have been rare. According to Amnesty, 70 Vietnamese are in detention for peacefully expressing opinions.

That reputation has put former foe the United States in a difficult spot as it pursues closer trade and military ties with a country that borders China and receives its political backing, a relationship many Vietnamese object to.

Vietnam and the United States are negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, but that needs the blessing of a Congress that has taken issue with human rights abuses, as shown by its support for sanctions when Myanmar was under rule.

Outspoken lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, the son of a former minister and close associate of late revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, was freed on April 5, three years into a 10-year sentence of both jail and house arrest for conducting "anti-state propaganda". He flew immediately to the United States.

"We are delighted that these men are out of prison but they should never have been locked-up in the first place," Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International's deputy Asia-Pacific director, said in a statement.

"The releases are a step in the right direction for freedom of expression and we hope that they reflect a shift in Vietnam's commitment to respecting human rights."

(Reporting by Martin Petty in Bangkok; Editing by Alison Williams)

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