Vietnam’s most famous political blogger, Nguyen Van Hai, has received a hero’s welcome in Los Angeles after being released from prison in Vietnam.
Mr Hai’s son, Nguyen Tri Dung, told the ABC he was shocked when he received a surprise call from the US embassy in Hanoi on Tuesday, saying his father would be freed.
“No-one informed me that was going to happen, so that was a surprise for me but I’m happy for my father and happy that he will get a warm welcome when he goes to the US.”
Mr Hai, commonly known by his pen name Dieu Cay, was not allowed to say goodbye to family and friends upon his release, instead he was taken straight from prison to Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport.
It was only when his plane touched down in Hong Kong, while en route to the US, that his son could call.
“The phone call only lasted about one minute, so I asked my father about his health … even though he tells me that he is fine I have to ask him again, and he answered again, ‘I am fine’.”
Blogger jailed for 12 years for ‘anti-state propaganda’
Dieu Cay shot to international prominence in 2012 when he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for “conducting anti-state propaganda”.
It was one of the most severe sentences to be handed down to a political blogger.
Vietnam is a one-party communist state where press freedom is curtailed and bloggers are routinely harassed, detained and sentenced for long periods.
It is thought that there are currently 26 other citizen journalists being detained in Vietnam.
While in detention, Mr Dung said his father’s health deteriorated dramatically, as he went on hunger strike twice to protest against the “hellish” conditions.
“The first time, we don’t know about it because my father was separated from his family, we could not visit him … but we all know about the second hunger strike and that was terrible,” he said.
Mr Dung said that although he hopes his father will continue blogging about democracy, he worries that Dieu Cay’s freedom might have repercussions for family members left in Vietnam.
“Basically we are safe right now but we also think about the longer future, that when we are still in Vietnam they may want to show my father that you may have to be silent, you may want to see what happened to your son and family in Vietnam.”
The US embassy in Hanoi said it welcomes the Vietnamese government’s decision to release Dieu Cay.
A Vietnamese human rights advocate told the ABC that Dieu Cay will only be in the US temporarily as his final destination is Canada.