Vietnam says will free 1,712 prisoners in amnesty
HANOI - Vietnam will free 1,712 prisoners
and reduce sentences for a further 4,316 under an amnesty held
to mark the 54th anniversary of the country's declaration of
independence, an official said on Wednesday.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh told a
fortnightly news conference that jails around the country would
name the prisoners to be freed, and that releases would begin
from September 2.
It was unclear if any dissidents would be freed under the
amnesty, which comes ahead of a visit next week by U.S.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is expected to raise
the issue of human rights with her hosts.
``Proceeding from the policy of humanity and tolerance of the
state of Vietnam, on the occasion of National Day on
September 2, the competent authorities of Vietnam have
considered and decided on the mitigation of punishment
duration for 6,028 prisoners,'' Thanh said.
Of the total, 1,712 people would be released, she added.
Last year around a dozen political and religious figures were
freed as part of two amnesties for some 7,800 prisoners that
coincided with the independence commemoration.
International human rights groups and some foreign
governments say Vietnam imprisons people for the peaceful
expression of political or religious views -- a charge Hanoi
rejects, saying all those in its jails are common criminals.
``I would like to reiterate that in Vietnam we do not have any
so-called political or religious prisoners,'' Deputy Foreign
Minister Nguyen Dinh Bin told reporters earlier on Wednesday.
Some political and religious prisoners freed under last year's
amnesty have said they were under tight surveillance and
questioned periodically by authorities.
Reuters - September 1, 1999.