HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A young Vietnamese dissident released early from prison said Monday she will continue fighting for multiparty democracy in the Communist-ruled Southeast Asian country after the leniency shown by authorities in freeing her.
Nugyen Phoung Uyen, 21, was sentenced to six years for distributing leaflets hostile to the ruling party.
An appeals court earlier this month changed that to a three-year suspended sentence and released her after 10 months in jail. Sympathizers said it was the first time that authorities had freed someone early who had been convicted of national security crimes.
Uyen's remarks to The Associated Press reveal something of the confidence of Vietnam's dissident movement, which has been energized by the spread of the Internet in recent years. Whilst long prison terms are still common, many dissidents and pro-democracy bloggers are not afraid to publicly express dissent, challenging a regime that until recently had a monopoly on most information in the country.
"I'm now free, but the three-year suspended sentence is like a noose that strangles me and shuts my mouth," she said by phone. "I just wanted everybody, especially the young people who live under this regime, to know what rights they have."
Uyen said she was kept in a darkened room for the initial period of her imprisonment and given water contaminated with rat droppings. She said was given meat or fish only four times a month, less than the eight stipulated in prison regulations.
Uyen was freed followed meetings last month between President Barack Obama and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. Obama pressed Vietnam to take concrete steps to improve its human rights record — a major sticking point in ties between the countries.
In a statement, the United States embassy in Hanoi said it welcome the release, albeit with restrictions, and urged Hanoi to also free Dinh Nguyen Kha, a 25-year-old activist arrested alongside Uyen. Kha had his sentenced halved by the court.
Uyen said Kha's actions were patriotic and not aimed at attempting to overthrow the government
"I really hope that everyone will join me and fight for the communist government to free Kha," she said. "I feel pain to leave my companion and my brother in that darkest place."
Uyen said she now plans to learn English to help publicize the human rights situation in Vietnam internationally. She said there was no question of her stopping her campaign for democracy in Vietnam, saying the country was on an "inevitable trend" toward greater freedoms.
"We have the right to choose an organization to run the country, not just one that was imposed on the people," she said.
Vietnam's leaders have delivered rising living standards and security to the country of 90 million people since embracing economic reforms in the 1980s. But they do not allow any challenge to their one-party rule and routinely arrest critics.
At least 46 people, many of them pro-democracy bloggers, have been convicted and sentenced for dissident activities this year.