Vietnam deports Vietnamese-American dissident
( AFP ) - Communist Vietnam deported a Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activist Tuesday, state media said, after his arrest last month with a group of other dissidents triggered protests from the United States.
Leon Truong, a member of the banned California-based Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform) party, left on a Taipei-bound China Airlines flight from Ho Chi Minh City's international airport, Vietnam Television reported.
Truong was arrested on November 17 with five other pro-democracy activists, including one other US citizen, a Frenchwoman, one Thai and two Vietnamese nationals, accused in state media of plotting terrorism against Vietnam.
The arrests triggered a rally outside the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, a protest letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung from a group of Congress members, and a call to explain the charges from the US ambassador to Hanoi.
The state television report said Truong, a Hawaii restaurateur, had been released from custody at 3pm local time, having shown a "cooperative attitude with the authorities," and had been ordered to leave Vietnam within 14 hours.
The television report did not mention the other detained activists.
US Ambassador Michael Michalak hours earlier said he had seen no evidence to support claims in Vietnam's state media that Truong or three other US citizens in custody in the communist country were guilty of terrorism.
"If they're being detained because of peaceful expression of political views, we protest that most vigorously and call for their immediate release," he said, saying Vietnam had not yet informed the US of any charges.
The others arrested were Nguyen Quoc Quan, a mathematician from California whom Vietnam accuses of having used a fake Cambodian passport, Frenchwoman Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, Thai citizen Somsak Khunmi and two Vietnamese nationals.
Two more Vietnamese-Americans, reportedly carrying a handgun and bullets, were arrested at the city's airport on November 23, Vietnam state media said in reports that collectively labelled all the detainees "terrorists."
Michalak said "to date, we have received no formal notification of charges against the individuals. We continue to seek information, including about the activities that resulted in Vietnamese action against these individuals."
State media reports in Vietnam have accused Viet Tan of being a "reactionary and terrorist" group plotting to overthrow the communist government.
Viet Tan says it supports only non-violent political action and denies any links to the couple arrested on November 23, Le Van Phan and Nguyen Thi Thinh.
Michalak said the woman had "denied any knowledge of any gun in her bag" and the embassy was requesting help from American authorities to track their luggage for any evidence of having carried weapons.
About 300 Vietnamese-Americans on Monday protested outside the Vietnamese embassy in Washington against the latest arrests.
Eleven US lawmakers have also written to Vietnamese Prime Minister Dung, saying the arrests "violate the government of Vietnam's promise to continue to improve its human rights record."
Vietnam says it does not prosecute political activists, only people who break the law, including provisions that ban anti-state propaganda.
On Monday a court in southern Vietnam jailed four more dissidents for "spreading distorted information to undermine the state," state media said.
At least three of those jailed were arrested in October last year after founding the United Workers-Farmers Organization, which Vietnam has banned.
The UWFO condemned the sentences and said it would "continue to struggle for the rights of forming independent labor unions and justice for those who suffer government corruption."