Vietnam frees two high-profile dissidents amid criticisms over human rights

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam has released two political activists, the latest high-profile dissidents to be freed as the communist nation comes under increasing international pressure over its human rights record.

Blogger Nguyen Tien Trung told AFP that he and Vi Duc Hoi, a Communist Party official turned democracy campaigner, had been freed on Saturday.

Mr Trung, 30, was serving a seven-year term in Ho Chi Minh City for "subverting the people's administration", while Mr Hoi was jailed for five years for "anti-state propaganda".

Mr Trung's term was due to end in January next year and he said he would remain under house arrest for three more years.

"My family and I did not expect I would be released so early," Mr Trung said, adding he thought his release would be timed with an amnesty marking the anniversary on April 30 of the end of the war with the United States.

Last week Vietnamese authorities freed Cu Huy Ha Vu, one of the country's most prominent dissidents who had been jailed for seven years for "anti-state activity" after trying to sue the prime minister.

The US embassy said he had left for America, without giving further details.

The one-party state is regularly denounced by rights groups and Western governments for its intolerance of political dissent and systematic violations of freedom of religion.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the decisions but still condemned Vietnam's rights record.

"Vietnam's prisons still hold hundreds more political prisoners who should be immediately and unconditionally released," HRW's Asia deputy director Phil Robertson told AFP.

"Until that happens it's impossible to say that Vietnam is making appreciable progress on human rights," he added.

Vietnam bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are state-run. Lawyers, bloggers and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention.

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