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Friday, August 28, 1998 Published at 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Vietnamese amnesty frees 5,000

Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong

The President of Vietnam, Tran Duc Luong, has granted an amnesty to more than 5,000 prisoners. The release will coincide with Vietnamese independence day on 2 September.

BBC South-East Asia Correspondent, Simon Ingram: Release marks "culmination of a well- organised international campaign"
Among those freed are two prominent anti-government figures. The writer and journalist Doan Viet Hoat was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1993 after being accused of attempting to overthrow the government.

His case in particular achieved widespread international publicity. Before his detention Hoat had published an underground newspaper, Freedom Forum, calling for a multi-party system and the abolition of the ruling communist party.

Last June, he was honoured by the world association of newspapers for his commitment to a free press.

The other leading dissident to be released, Nguyen Dan Que - a doctor, was sentenced to 20 years for advocating democratic reforms.

The Vietnamese government has been under growing pressure from western governments and human rights organisations to release the two men.

International image

According to reports, diplomats based in Hanoi say that the decision to release Hoat reflects the increased importance Vietnam is attaching to its international image.

"This is very significant. It's buying them some goodwill which they need right now," said an unnamed European diplomat.

The country has been hit hard by the fall-out from Asia's economic crisis and is in need of international goodwill to keep open channels of aid and investment.

Announcing the release, the Director of the Presidential Office, Nguyen Canh Dinh, reiterated the government's long-standing position that Vietnam had no prisoners jailed for their political or religious beliefs.

"We do not have political or religious prisoners. All Vietnamese or expatriates who have violated Vietnam's laws have been sentenced in accordance with the criminal courts," he said.

However, a recent US State Department report said the country had some 200 political prisoners.

Dinh said the prisoners would be freed because they had behaved well and would make a good contribution to society.

He said that if the two dissidents wished to leave the country, their request would be considered.

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US State Dept. Human Rights Report on Vietnam

Vietnamese Embassy in Washington DC

Nhan Dan: Vietnamese official newspaper (in Vietnamese)

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