REGIONS:

Amnesty for two imprisoned writers but unjust sentences for many more

In Vietnam's annual tradition of giving amnesty to prisoners in recognition of independence day, the government passed over many of those most deserving of amnesty - prisoners of conscience, report Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Only two political prisoners were included among the 10,000 released, reports WiPC. Yet there are hundreds of political prisoners in Vietnam, many being held under torturous conditions in contravention of international law, says Human Rights Watch.

In early September, poet and blogger Tran Duc Thach was released two weeks before the expiry of his three-year sentence and blogger Nguyen Van Tinh was given amnesty four months before the end of his three-and-a-half-year sentence. Both had been jailed for criticising government policies, report WiPC and RSF. Both were in very poor health, WiPC adds.

In the past six months alone, at least nine journalists have been newly imprisoned in Vietnam, making the country "among the worst jailers of journalists in the world," says Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia programme director. In total, Vietnam is currently detaining 20 bloggers and reporters, according to RSF. Last month, RSF sent a letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung demanding the release of all those jailed for their writings or statements. WiPC is calling on supporters to write similar letters of appeal.

Among those still imprisoned is Nguyen Van Hai, a popular blogger and press freedom activist who goes by the name "Dieu Cay" and is rumoured to have lost a hand or an arm in prison. Dieu Cay, the founder of the Free Journalist Network in Viet Nam, has spent the last three years in prison even though his sentence was completed in October. His exact whereabouts is unknown as family visits have been cut off for more than a year now.

Human Rights Watch reports that 15 religious activists have been also arrested and face multi-year sentences in connection with prayer vigils for imprisoned activists. The arrests took place over the months of July, August and September, says Human Rights Watch.

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