HANOI (Reuters) - A Vietnamese court has ordered the deportation of an American man of Vietnamese descent detained during nationwide protests last month, state media reported on Friday.
William Anh Nguyen, 32, was accused of “causing public disorder” during the mass protests, sparked by concerns the development of economic zones by offering land leases for up to 99 years would be dominated by investors from China.
Nguyen will be released and “deported immediately” after his one-day trial ends on Friday, the Ho Chi Minh City Law newspaper said.
“The jury acknowledged that the defendant admitted his illegal activities. Considering his sincerity, the court did not hand him a prison sentence,” the state-run newspaper reported.
“We are pleased that the case of U.S. citizen William Nguyen has been resolved,” James Thrower, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, said in an emailed statement.
“We understand from the court’s decision that he will be deported after paying a fine.”
Vietnam’s constitution allows freedom of assembly, but protests are often broken up by police.
A public disorder charge carries a prison term of up to seven years, according to Vietnam’s criminal code.
“We are pleased that William Nguyen will be reunited and returning home with his family,” said Francisco Bencosme, Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager at Amnesty International USA.
“However, we don’t believe he should have been detained and charged in the first place for freely expressing himself and exercising his (human) right to protest,” Bencosme said.
Nguyen’s trial came two weeks after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised Nguyen’s detention during meetings with Vietnamese officials in Hanoi and asked for a “speedy resolution” to his case.
State media reports said Nguyen was “gathering and causing trouble” during the protests and was filmed urging others to climb over barricades. Video footage of Nguyen shared on social media showed he had blood on his head during the June protest.
The Vietnamese government had denied any use of force against Nguyen and had allowed U.S. consular officials to visit him in detention.
On Wednesday, 19 U.S. lawmakers wrote to Pompeo asking him to secure Nguyen’s release.
“As elected representatives of Mr. Nguyen’s family, and the greater Vietnamese-American community, we remain very concerned about the seriousness of the pending charges and the sentence he faces,” said the letter, reviewed by Reuters.
Despite sweeping economic reforms, communist-ruled Vietnam tolerates little dissent.
Police in the country arrested dozens of people during June’s protests, which spanned several cities and turned violent in the central province of Binh Thuan.
A court in the province has jailed six people for clashing with police during the protests.
Reporting by Khanh Vu and James Pearson; additional reporting by Mai Nguyen; editing by Richard Pullin and Michael Perry