A dissident Vietnamese blogger imprisoned for defaming the country's Communist government is celebrating her first day of freedom on U.S. soil.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of supporters, family members and reporters when she arrived early Thursday morning at George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas, accompanied by her two young children and mother.
Quynh was reunited with her two children on the flight from Vietnam. She told VOA, “Although I was prepared to meet my family, I was still shocked when my son and daughter hugged me on the plane. We have been waiting for more than two years for this.”
She added that Vietnamese officials had kept her from having any contact with her son and daughter until the last minute.
"The reunion sends a message to those who have imprisoned me that I am not alone and the voice of freedom is never lost.”
Quynh, who blogged under the pseudonym "Mother Mushroom," wrote extensively about human rights and industrial pollution before she was arrested in October 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Her release on Wednesday coincided with a visit to Vietnam by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
The State Department said Wednesday that Quynh had "clearly stated" she wanted to go to the United States if she were released from prison.
She told reporters shortly after her arrival in Houston that she choose to come to the United States because "no one cares more about human rights" than the United States.
Her plight received international attention last year when she was given an International Women of Courage Award in absentia. The award was presented by U.S. first lady Melania Trump.
Quynh is among the dozens of bloggers and activists who have been arrested since 2016 as part of the Vietnamese government's crackdown on dissent over the past two years.
The State Department urged Vietnam to "immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience and allow all Vietnamese citizens to express their political views without fear of retribution."
Human rights organization Amnesty International welcomed the news of Quynh's release. Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty's regional director for East and South East Asia, said the release "should also be a reminder of Vietnam's worsening record of jailing anyone who criticizes the regime ... There are over 100 people languishing in jail because they peacefully spoke their mind - in public, on blogs, or on Facebook."