Vietnamese dissident Doan Thi Hong has been released from prison after serving a sentence of two and a half years for “disturbing security” by organizing public protests and has been reunited with her family, Vietnamese sources say.
Hong, also called Xuan Hong, was freed on March 9 in poor health with weakened eyesight, a digestive disorder, and a tumor growing in her chest, and is the first member of the activist Hien Phap, or Constitution Group, to be freed from prison.
“I’m very happy to be reunited with my family and to see my relatives and children,” said Hong, whose youngest daughter was three years old when Hong was arrested.
“However, having my freedom now reminds me of those others who are still in prison, and I feel so sorry for them whenever I think of them,” she said.
Hong said that after having her health checked, she will try to reclaim a motorbike seized by police at the time of her Sept. 2, 2018 arrest in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 12 for planning to organize a public protest two days later.
“Once I get the motorbike back to use for my transportation, I can think about how to buy and sell some goods to help me make ends meet,” she said.
The Hien Phap Group, a network of activists formed in 2017 to call for the rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed by Vietnam’s own Constitution, had played a major role in calling for protests that rocked Vietnamese cities in June 2018 in opposition to a proposed cybersecurity law and a law granting concessions of land to Chinese businesses.
Seven of its members are still in prison serving sentences of from five to eight years on charges of “disturbing security” under Article 118 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Police investigators strongly urged Hong following her arrest not to hire a lawyer to defend her in court, saying this would only earn her a longer sentence on conviction, Hong said, adding that she had already wanted to avoid placing a financial burden on her family.
“Therefore, I refused to [have a lawyer]. But after seeing my family, and especially after speaking with [my elder sister], I decided to get a lawyer anyway,” she said.
In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Washington D.C.-based Freedom House gave Vietnam an overall score of 19 out of a possible 100, a one-point drop from last year’s rating. Vietnam scored three out of 40 in political rights, and 16 out of 60 in civil liberties.
”Freedom of expression, religious freedom, and civil society activism are tightly restricted [and the] authorities have increasingly cracked down on citizens’ use of social media and the internet,” Freedom House said.
Reported by RFA’ Vietnamese Service. Translated by Chau Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.