08/28/2006, 00.00
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Pro-democracy dissident, Pham Hong Son, to be released shortly

A European diplomat said his liberation will take place soon as part of an amnesty decided by the Presidential Office. Imprisoned since 2003 for spying, his release has come about thanks to international pressure.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Vietnamese government has decided to release Pham Hong Son, a famous dissident and pro-democracy activist who has been in prison for more than four years on spying charges, a European diplomat said today.

Pham Hong Son, a 37-year-old businessman, should be released in the coming days. His liberation is part of a wide amnesty decided by the Presidential Office. The diplomat, who remains anonymous for security reasons, said: "We have been informed by the Vietnamese authorities that he would be released."

The dissident was arrested in Hanoi on 27 March 2002 a few weeks after translating and publishing online a article entitled "What is democracy?" His release is the fruit of diplomatic pressure on Vietnam and comes as the Communist country's market seeks to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Vietnam is expected to join at the end of the year.

The diplomat said the "timing is not a coincidence" and described the decision as "very good news". "There is a clear will for the Vietnamese authorities to influence the political process in the United States that must decide the entry of new members into the WTO," he said.

A Vietnamese court accused Son of spying because he had communicated by telephone and email with "political opportunists" in Vietnam and overseas and used email to send "anti-government and anti-Communist Party documents" abroad.

He was found guilty at the Hanoi People's Court on June 18, 2003 and sentenced to 13 years in jail. The term was cut to five years on appeal, thanks to intense pressure, especially from Western governments. He became an icon of dissent in Vietnam, and the United States, European Union, Australia and several human rights organisations regularly called for his release.

"The fact that he has been consistently mentioned by diplomats and the foreign press has probably helped his release," the diplomat said.

Vietnam will release 5,352 prisoners under a presidential amnesty on September 2 to mark the day when the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France in 1945.

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