A Vietnamese court has overturned a six-year jail term handed to a student activist, freeing her on the spot in a rare show of leniency by the authoritarian nation, while her co-defendant had his setence halved.
Friday’s verdict freeing 21-year-old Nguyen Phuong Uyen was unexpected.
“She was freed at the court,” lawyer Nguyen Thanh Luong, who does not represent Uyen but attended the proceedings, told AFP news agency, adding that Uyen was instead handed a three-year suspended sentence.
Vietnam’s courts routinely reject pleas by anti-state dissidents against their lengthy sentences, reports said.
Uyen was sentenced in May to six years in prison for distributing anti-state propaganda, prompting an outcry from Vietnamese social media users and international rights groups.
Uyen’s co-defendant, 25-year-old computer technician Dinh Nguyen Kha, who was jailed for eight years at their trial in the southern province of Long An, had his sentence halved by the appeal court on Friday.
‘Humiliating the administration’
Uyen and Kha were accused of distributing anti-government leaflets which “humiliated the administration” and called for demonstrations against the regime.
The charges, under Article 88 of the criminal code, carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail and are routinely laid against dissidents.
Uyen, who refused legal representation for the appeal hearing, reportedly told the court she was a patriot and not a criminal.
“Opposing the (ruling) Communist Party does not mean opposing the country and the people,” she said, according to an unofficial transcript of proceedings posted online by activists.
Vietnamese dissidents and online activists welcomed the unexpected verdict, but many voiced suspicions about the government’s motives in freeing the popular Uyen, whose plight has attracted strong support.
This year, at least 46 activists have been convicted and three bloggers were detained in June for anti-state activity in Vietnam, where the Communist Party forbids all political debate.