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Vietnam Pardons 10,244 Prisoners but Few Dissidents

Two Vietnamese activists jailed for advocating democracy were among more than 10,000 prisoners granted amnesty by Vietnam’s government on August 25, 2011 in celebration of National Day. Nguyen Van Tinh and Tran Duc Thach had been sentenced in 2009 to three-and-a-half and three years in jail, respectively – Tinh for hanging pro-democracy banners and Thach for “propaganda against the state.”

A total of 10,244 prisoners arrested for crimes ranging from murder and drug trafficking to trafficking women and bribery were released due to the mass amnesty – around 10 percent of the country’s entire prison population. Approximately 17,000 prisoners had been pardoned in 2010 and about 5,000 were released in 2009 as part of Vietnam’s annual National Day amnesty.

According to Giang Son, Vice-Chairman of the President’s office, “This once again demonstrates the clemency policy of the Party and State and the humane traditions of the Vietnamese people.”

International prison watchdog groups, however, painted a different picture. Human Rights Watch said Thachs’ poetry and other “dissident” writings “condemn corruption, injustice, and human rights abuses,” and noted that he had been arrested more than 10 times since 1978.

Amnesty International expressed concern that dozens of political critics and dissidents jailed since late 2009 had not yet been released and were not included in the amnesty. For example, activist Pham Minh Hoang received a three-year sentence for pro-democracy activities and another prominent dissident, Cu Huy Ha Vu, was sentenced to seven years.

Of the 10,244 Vietnamese prisoners who received amnesty only five, including Tinh and Thach, had been charged with “national security crimes.” More than 10,000 prisoners were pardoned in September 2012 for National Day, including 11 foreigners. Whether the most recent amnesty included any political prisoners was not reported. Of course, compared to the United States which rarely pardons its political dissidents and shows no mercy to its prisoners, especially in the form of mass releases, the contrast is striking.


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