Washington (AsiaNews) - Vietnamese authorities asked one of Vietnam's foremost dissidents to sign a form seeking a pardon for spreading "propaganda against the state" before his release from prison last week, then forced him onto a US-bound flight with just the clothes on his back.
Nguyen Van Hai, an activist who blogged under the name Dieu Cay, was in fact pardoned and released. However, rather than a release due to an act of clemency, he told the Associated Press that it was a government form of "expulsion" and "deportation" to a long exile in the United States.
Convicted in September 2012, Nguyen, 62, was purging a 12-year prison sentence for promoting "subversive" activities. He said that he refused to sign the pardon request because he was innocent and had not committed any crime, and that the authorities gave him no option but to leave for exile in the United States.
"They rushed me directly from the jail to (Hanoi's) Noi Bai International Airport and escorted me onto the airplane," he told AP.
"They didn't allow me to see my family before my departure. So, we can't say they released me. If they had given me back my freedom, I could have gone back home instead of going directly to the airport without seeing my family and my friends."
At the time of release, on 21 October, Hanoi said the release was for "humanitarian reasons".
A spokesman for the State Department said Dieu Cay himself wanted to travel to the US.
Nguyen Van Hai welcomes the recent release of some political prisoners from prison in Vietnam, but has grave doubts about the reasons behind it. "I think [. . .] it's unacceptable when they use political prisoners as bargaining chips in diplomatic negotiations," Hai explained.
"I hope that all governments (negotiating with Vietnam) put democracy and other civil rights as conditions the country should respect and comply with," he added.
In the past several years, Vietnam has seen a harsh campaign against dissidents, bloggers, religious leaders (including Buddhists), Catholic activists or entire communities, like in the Diocese of Vinh where the local bishop and faithful were targeted.
The government's crackdown has also touched people whose only guilt is that of claiming the right to religious freedom and respect for citizens' civil rights.
In 2013 alone, Vietnamese authorities arrested dozens of activists for crimes "against the state," based on a rule that human rights groups have branded as too "generic" and "vague".