September 6, 1997 in Nation/World

Vietnam Releases Political Prisoner

Compiled From Wire Services

Vietnam freed a prominent political prisoner and gave him permission to go to the United States, a U.S. Embassy official in Vietnam said Friday.

Pham Duc Kham, 65, was one of several intellectuals arrested in 1990 for publishing an underground newsletter called Freedom Forum. Before his release Thursday, he had served seven years of a 12-year sentence for “attempting to overthrow the government.”

The case had attracted widespread attention as an example of the Hanoi regime’s intolerance of peaceful dissent.

A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity by telephone from the Vietnamese capital, said the United States was happy to hear of Kham’s release.

He said Vietnam had freed Kham on its own volition, not in response to any specific U.S. pressure. The Washington Post quoted Vietnamese Interior Ministry officials as saying that Kham was freed for humanitarian reasons.

Kham had been expected to leave Vietnam late Friday in the company of a nephew who lives in the United States.

A report Friday from the Post news service quoted Kham as saying he had been hoping for his release for a long time but was shocked when it had actually occurred.

He denied that his group’s goal was to overthrow the government, saying that “all we were trying to do was push the process of liberalization.”

“I do think that I spoke too early,” he was quoted as saying. “The process of opening and democratization - to go into an entirely new system - needs time.”

Vietnam has been moving gradually from rigid Communism to a more liberal model, though emphasizing economic reforms over political ones.

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