October 21, 2014 / 11:41 PM / 5 years ago

United States welcomes release of jailed Vietnam blogger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Tuesday welcomed Vietnam’s decision to release jailed blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who staged a hunger strike to protest treatment of political prisoners, and said he was set to travel to the United States.

Hai, better known by the pen name Dieu Cay, was set to arrive in the United States on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a daily briefing.

“We welcome the decision by Vietnamese authorities to release this prisoner of conscience,” Harf told reporters. “He decided to travel to the United States after his release from prison,” she added.

Hai ended a five-week hunger in late July after the prosecutors office agreed to look into his claim of abusive treatment. It was his second hunger strike since being jailed for “anti-state propaganda.”

His hunger strike focused attention on Vietnam’s harsh treatment of activists and bloggers, who face intimidation and long prison terms for what authorities call abuses of their constitutional right to free speech. His own sentence was for 12 years. [ID:nL4N0G4038]

The United States partially lifted a long-time ban on lethal weapon sales to Vietnam on Oct. 2. A further easing of the embargo would depend on additional steps by Hanoi to release more political prisoners and improve its human rights record, U.S. officials said.

In 2013, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Hai an International Press Freedom Award. The committee said his troubles began in 2008, when he was imprisoned for the first time “after co-founding the unsanctioned Free Journalists Club of Vietnam while maintaining a widely read blog known as Dieu Cay (Peasant’s Pipe).”

During his second prison sentence, the committee said, family members reported that “Hai’s health has deteriorated to such a degree that he is barely recognizable.”

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by David Gregorio

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