Isle man freed from Vietnam
Vietnam has released a Hawaii-based U.S. pro-democracy activist who spent 24 days in jail after he was caught stuffing fliers in envelopes in Ho Chi Minh City.
Van Ba Truong, also known as Leon Truong, and two other Americans were released from jail yesterday, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said.
Truong was on his way back to his home in Hawaii, said Duy Hoang, a spokesman for California-based Viet Tan, a pro-democracy group. Vietnam state television showed Truong leaving jail and checking in at the airport. He is scheduled to return to Hawaii today.
"What he did, I felt there was nothing wrong," Lauren Truong, Leon Truong's daughter, said by telephone from Washington, D.C. "What my father would want to do now is support the other activists still imprisoned."
Leon Truong is a member of Viet Tan, which Vietnam regards as a terrorist organization. The group says it supports only nonviolent political change in Vietnam, and the U.S. government said it has seen no evidence that the group has terrorist aims.
Hoang said the Vietnamese government gave no official reason for the release, but believes it is indicative of the lack of evidence against Truong.
"We're very happy he's been freed," Hoang said. "This shows that the charges Vietnam threatened to bring against him were untrue and fabricated. ... That's the conclusion we have reached."
Lauren Truong agreed, adding that pressure from the media attention and U.S. officials might have aided his release. U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Urban Honolulu, sent a letter to the State Department asking for an investigation and the return of Truong and Nguyen Quoc Quan, another American who is still being held.
Yesterday Abercrombie held a press conference in Washington, saying that the Vietnamese government promised to improve its human rights record this year before joining the World Trade Organization and being granted permanent normal trade relations. "The arrest of these American citizens and other peaceful activists raises serious questions about Vietnam's commitment to that pledge," he said.
Although Abercrombie said he was thankful for Truong's release, he said it doesn't excuse the government's actions. "Its human rights actions -- including the detention of civilians without official explanation -- demand improvement," he said.
Truong's daughter said she spoke with her father briefly on the phone yesterday. "Right before he got on the airplane, I asked him how he's doing, and he said he's doing OK," she said.
The two other Americans released yesterday, Nguyen Thi Thinh and Le Van Phan, were arrested Nov. 23 at the Ho Chi Minh City airport, allegedly for carrying a weapon in their luggage.
Also arrested with Truong and Nguyen Quoc Quan on Nov. 17 were a French citizen, a Thai national and two Vietnamese.
Nguyen Quoc Quan is still detained in Vietnam, where authorities say he entered the country with a forged Cambodian passport.
Truong's daughter was in Washington yesterday lobbying to get the other activists freed. "They were all arrested for the same reason," she said. "Usually if you let one go, you should let all of them go."
A petition started earlier to free Truong and Nguyen can be found at www.freethemnow.net.
While the Vietnamese government had not issued formal charges against the detainees, the Vietnamese media said Truong and Nguyen were being investigated for terrorism.
U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak said he had seen no evidence linking them to terrorism and called on the Vietnamese government to explain the arrests.
"To date, we have received no formal notification of the charges against these individuals," Michalak said.
Truong came to Honolulu on Oct. 24, 1979, the same day his daughter was born. He joined Viet Tan in 1980. He left Hawaii on Nov. 2 to visit his family, his daughter said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.