HANOI (Reuters) - A Vietnam appeals court on Friday halved the eight-year jail term of a dissident and cut the six-year term of another to three years of house arrest, sources familiar with the verdict said, in a rare step welcomed by human rights activists.
Nguyen Phuong Uyen, a 21-year-old student, received a six-year prison term in mid-May, while Dinh Nguyen Kha, 25, got eight years after the two were held guilty of distributing “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.
Communist Vietnam has taken a tough line on dissent, with arrests and convictions on the rise in the last three years in the one-party state.
On Friday, the Supreme Court’s Court of Appeal suspended Uyen’s sentence, giving her three years of house arrest instead, three sources said after a hearing in the Mekong Delta province of Long An. It also ruled that Kha had to serve four years.
Court officials in Long An could not be reached for comment.
Vietnam’s court of appeals usually upholds sentences given by lower courts, and it is rare for a six-year term to be reduced to a three-year suspended sentence.
The decision was a positive result of sustained pressure on Vietnam, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch said.
“It’s likely that international pressure had something to do with this outcome,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the group’s Asia division, said in a statement.
“While this result is beyond expectations, it doesn’t change the fact that these two should have never been charged or imprisoned in the first place.”
Uyen and Kha became friends last year with a Vietnamese living in Thailand, before joining an anti-Vietnam movement and distributing leaflets critical of the state on several occasions until they were arrested last October.
Human Rights Watch had criticized the trial, urging Vietnam’s donors and diplomats to stop their support of the Southeast Asian country, which has a population of 90 million.
Editing by Clarence Fernandez