Hanoi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A prominent Vietnamese blogger and activist has been released from prison and is already en route to the United States. Nguyen Van Hai, better known by his nickname Dieu Cay, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in September 2012 for having promoted an anti-government propaganda.
The US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf has welcomed the news of the release of the "prisoner of conscience" and added that he had "decided on his own" to leave Vietnam. In reality, rather than an act of clemency, activists and pro-human rights groups speak of his expulsion and deportation from the country and exile in America.
In recent weeks, Washington had repeatedly appealed to the Hanoi government for the release of all political prisoners in the Asian country.
Hai Duong Thi Tan's ex-wife, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the man was taken from his cell and immediately brought to the airport, where he boarded a flight to the United States. She adds that the family has not been notified in advance of the release.
A former soldier, Dieu Cay was one of the co-founders of the "Club of Free Journalists" in 2007, and has covered politically sensitive events, including cases of government corruption and anti-Chinese protests against Beijing's expansionism in the seas.
First arrested in 2008, he was again arrested and sentenced to four years later for distributing leaflets and other material "against the State"- along with two other bloggers, sentenced respectively to 10 and four years in prison. He has always denied the allegations, proclaiming his innocence.
For the past several years, Vietnam has seen a harsh campaign by the government against dissidents, bloggers, religious leaders (including Buddhists), Catholic activists or entire communities. Last year for example, media and government conducted a smear campaign in the Diocese of Vinh targeting the local bishop and faithful.
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".
With more than six million followers, Catholicism is the second largest religion in the country, after Buddhism. The community has been at loggerheads with Hanoi, in most cases over issues related to land ownership or ecclesiastical goods that the government wants to seize.