HANOI – A U.S. citizen sentenced last year to 12 years in a Vietnamese jail for “attempting to overthrow the state”, has been released and returned to his home in California, a family spokesman told Reuters on Monday.
Michael Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam in 1964 and lived in the United States since childhood, was detained in July 2018 on suspicion of anti-government activities, including alleged incitement of protesters to attack government offices with Molotov cocktails and slingshots, state media reported at the time.
“He arrived home in California this past Thursday,” family spokesman Mark Roberts said in an email. He was unable to provide further details.
The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi in a statement confirmed Nguyen left Vietnam on Oct. 21. “We welcome his release on humanitarian grounds,” spokeswoman Rachael Chen said.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nguyen lost his appeal last year and his family maintained he was innocent.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Washington had regularly raised Nguyen’s detention with the government.
“The message in Michael’s release is public and private pressure on the Vietnam government works when it is consistently applied on cases of dissidents who should never have been arrested, much less imprisoned, in the first place,” Robertson said.
Despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism.
Vietnam has previously freed imprisoned political activists before the end of their sentences, provided they permanently leave the country.
Nguyen’s wife, Helen, attended U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech last year as a guest of Democratic Representative Katie Porter of Orange County, California, where the Nguyen family lives.
Nguyen’s release was not reported in Vietnam’s state media. It was not clear if two Vietnamese nationals detained at the same time were also released.