Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who was serving a 10-year sentence for anti-state propaganda, was released as US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis visited the one-party state.
Bilateral ties with Washington have been deepening as Hanoi tries to offset the growing power of China, although it is unclear if her release was linked to the Mattis visit.
Mother Mushroom, derived from her daughter’s nickname Mushroom, was openly critical of the Communist authorities before she was arrested in October 2016 while visiting a fellow activist in jail. She wrote about deaths in police custody, environmental degradation and political issues.
Vietnam stepped up a crackdown on online critics over the past two years with numerous activists and bloggers put on trial for national security law-related offences.
Despite economic reforms since the mid-1980s, opening Vietnam to foreign investment and making it one of the fastest-growing Asian economies, the government still tolerates no challenge to its one-party rule.
In July, the 39-year-old Nguyen performed a two-week hunger strike, according to the 88 Project, a political prisoner campaigning organisation.
International rights groups had criticised Hanoi for the prominent blogger’s incarceration.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director, said: “There are over 100 people languishing in jail because they peacefully spoke their mind – in public, on blogs or on Facebook.
“The mobilisation around the world for Mother Mushroom’s case should trigger a change of course for Vietnam’s leaders. The Cybersecurity Law due to take effect in January 2019 will only give authorities more tools to silence dissent and put people away. It should not be implemented – lest others face the same horrific treatment as Mother Mushroom and other peaceful critics still in jail.”
This year Nguyen was transferred from a prison in her home province of Khanh Hoa to a jail far from her family in an apparent attempt to punish the blogger.
Former US ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius welcomed the news.
“I’m delighted that she’s out of jail, I know she was ill and I know her family has been terribly worried about her,” Osius told the media.
Meanwhile, a court in southern Binh Duong province yesterday (Wednesday) sentenced an activist to seven years in jail for producing 3,300 leaflets calling on workers to protest against a proposed law on special economic zones.
Nguyen Dinh Thanh, 27, was convicted of spreading propaganda against the state in a one-day trial.
The death of Vietnam’s security-focused former president Tran Dai Quang last month might lead to a relaxation in state repression. Picture credit: Kremlin