The family of Vietnamese dissident blogger Dieu Cay says he has been secretly released from prison and forced to leave the country.
His wife, Duong Thi Tan, told VOA's Vietnamese service that her husband was taken to Noi Bai airport directly from prison Tuesday. However, while she is grateful for U.S. assistance, she said the downside is that his release does not signal a change in her nation's policies.
“On behalf of my husband, I’d like to express our gratitude to the U.S. government. However, such intervention from the U.S. seems to give a green light to the Vietnamese authorities to keep arresting political prisoners as hostages and trading them for benefits in the future," said Thi Tan.
"The struggle path for democracy of the Vietnamese people, thus, is certainly still very challenging. The international community should support us by other ways, such as monitoring, applying sanction measures, and other tougher means rather than taking prisoners of conscience out of the country one after another," she said.
Dieu Cay talked with his family from Hong Kong where he was catching a connecting flight to the U.S..
Last month, Duong Thi Tan said her husband had dismissed authorities’ request that he write a petition seeking a pardon after serving more than half of a 12-year sentence.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Tuesday the U.S. welcomes the release, and she said the blogger made his own choice to travel to the U.S. to join his family.
"He decided to travel to the United States after his release from prison and will arrive [Tuesday]. He decided himself to travel to the U.S. We have consistently called for his release and the release of all other political prisoners in Vietnam," said Harf.
The international community, rights groups and world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, had called for the release of Dieu Cay, whose real name is Nguyen Van Hai. The Vietnamese activist had endured long periods of solitary confinement and hunger strikes to protest against ill-treatment in prison.
Benjamin Ismail from Reporters Without Borders told VOA it is not known why he was set free.
"The very release of Dieu Cay is a good news in itself and for that we are grateful that there was an intervention. But we still have to wait to obtain more information on what really happened and what really led to his release. We already want to say that there are at least 26 other news providers, not media professionals, still being held in jail in Vietnam," said Ismail.
Dieu Cay's release follows the lifting of the decades-old U.S. ban on lethal weapon sales to Vietnam. Washington has been calling on Vietnam to improve its human rights record in exchange for better U.S. relations.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.