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Vietnam Pardons 2 Elderly Activists Ahead of US Meeting

FILE - Nguyen Tuan Nam, member of the People’s Action Party, was arrested at the border of Cambodia and Thailand in November 1996 and was sentenced to 19 years in prison for “fleeing abroad to oppose the state.”

Vietnam has granted early releases to two elderly political prisoners ahead of a visit to Washington this week by Hanoi's foreign minister.

Tran Tu and Nguyen Tuan Nam, both in their 70s, were set free late last week after serving about two decades each in prison.

Tu, a U.S. citizen and member of the Vietnam Revolutionary Party Coalition, was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City in 1993 and sentenced to life in prison on charges of “attempting to overthrow the state”.

Nam, a member of the People’s Action Party, was arrested in 1996 and sentenced to 19 years in prison for “fleeing abroad to oppose the state”.

He tells VOA's Vietnamese service that he remains defiant despite signing a confession.

“I told them I did not do anything wrong, I wouldn’t file a confession of wrongdoing’s to seek for pardon, and that it’s up to them to decide my fate," he said. "Dozens of high-ranking jail officers pressed me to file the confession for a pardon. With the encouragement of many fellow prisoners, I finally had no other choice but to do it. Prisoners’ conditions in this communist-ruling country are unbearable."

The releases take place ahead of a meeting in Washington this week between Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Vietnam has been trying to join the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and to convince Washington to lift its lethal weapons embargo. The U.S. has been calling on Hanoi to improve its human rights record to secure better ties with Washington.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.