No political prisoners freed in amnesty

The deputy minister, Le Quy Vuong, gives details of the amnesty. Photo courtesy of Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images

The deputy minister, Le Quy Vuong, gives details of the amnesty. Photo courtesy of Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images

Vietnam will release no political prisoners as part of this year’s amnesty to mark  independence day on September 2.

18,298 prisoners are to be freed under the amnesty decreed by the president – the second largest ever, according to government figures.

The Deputy Minister of Public Security, Le Quy Vuong, however, made clear that “none of them have committed crimes against national security”.

Dissidents and government critics had earlier expressed the hope that the government would release some of the country’s 200 political prisoners.

Foreign governments have also made calls for the release of prisoners of conscience.

Most have been convicted on charges of employing “propaganda against the state”, misusing “democratic freedoms” or “attempting to overthrow the state”.

The charges have been used against bloggers and other activists including human rights lawyers and advocates of religious freedom.

The communist authorities have refrained from prosecuting any high profile government critics so far this year.

Analysts believe the leadership in Hanoi is anxious not to antagonise its critics in the United States and Europe at a time when it is attempting to negotiate key trade pacts with both Washington and Brussels.

The decision not to release some of the dissidents will therefore come as a disappointment to human rights activists and civil society advocates.

The prisoners to be freed had been sentenced to a range of crimes including murder, drug and people-trafficking and bribery.

This year 34 foreigners — including Australians, Laotians,  Chinese, Malaysians and Filipinos — will also be released.

The prisoners will be released in batches from Monday to mark the 70th anniversary of Vietnam’s declaration of independence on September 2 1945.

Such amnesties are normally declared to mark National Day or the Vietnamese new year, Tet.

“The amnesty reflects the humanitarian nature of the Party and state of Vietnam, and is aimed at encouraging the inmates to become useful citizens,” Giang Son, the deputy manager of the president’s office, told reporters.

Mr Vuong refused to clarify the total number of prisoners currently detained, saying the figures were “national secrets that cannot be revealed”.

Vietnam’s last prisoner amnesty was in 2013 when more than 15,000 inmates were freed.