BERLIN: A Vietnamese pro-democracy activist jailed for 15 years for “attempting to overthrow” the Communist state arrived in Germany on Friday (Jun 8) hours after being released from prison.
Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha were freed late Thursday and whisked away on an overnight flight to Germany, along with Dai’s wife Vu Minh Khanh.
His exit removes a perennial thorn from the side of Vietnam’s authorities, who are jailing pro-democracy campaigners, dissident lawyers and bloggers at alarming rates.
Dai, a leading member of the Brotherhood for Democracy (BFD) activist group, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in April, while Ha got nine years.
The pair, who had been in custody since 2015, were accused of carrying out human rights training and pressing for multi-party democracy with the aid of foreign funds in a bid to topple the state.
Four others were also convicted in the case that drew international condemnation for Vietnam’s harsh treatment of critics.
Political parties and independent press are banned in Vietnam, which is a one-party state.
“I did not come to Germany to stay for the long term,” Dai told AFP by telephone.
“My motherland is Vietnam, my mother and relatives are there. I will fight to return.”
Germany greeted their release as “a remarkable humanitarian step and a good signal to the international community” after months of diplomatic tensions between Berlin and Hanoi.
Relations have been icy since last July’s Cold War-style kidnapping by Vietnamese agents of a fugitive Vietnamese executive from a Berlin park, which Hanoi has denied.
“Germany should be highly commended for giving asylum to Nguyen Van Dai, his wife and his assistant,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch.
“Vietnam’s rights abusing behaviour to punish people who dare use their voices and their actions to demand real reform is outrageous and unconscionable.”
Dai’s lawyer said his client had chosen not to appeal his prison verdict in April because he had been planning to leave Vietnam since his arrest in 2015 – and had held discussions with several embassies in Hanoi.
“He needed to consult with his wife but later he picked Germany,” Nguyen Van Mieng told AFP Friday.
The European Union, the United States and the United Nations had all issued harsh rebukes after the April trial.
The four others sentenced to between seven and 12 years lost their appeal this week and remain in prison.
Dai served four years in prison on 2007 for anti-state activity and has long been a problem for Vietnamese authorities.
He was one of the founders of BFD, a nationwide pro-democracy network which has seen several members jailed in recent months.
The one-party state has long jailed its critics, but rights groups say a conservative leadership in place since 2016 is tightening its grip and handing out heavier sentences.
Amnesty International says at least 97 prisoners of conscience are behind bars.