Vietnam expels human rights lawyer, 2nd dissident to Germany

FILE - In this April 5, 2018, file photo, prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai stands trial in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnamese authorities released from prison and expelled Dai and another dissident, both of whom were sent to Germany, a pro-democracy group said. (Lam Khanh/ Vietnam News Agency via AP, File)

HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnamese authorities released from prison and expelled a prominent human rights lawyer and another dissident, both of whom were sent to Germany, a pro-democracy group said.

The Brotherhood for Democracy said on its Facebook page that lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha arrived in Frankfurt early Friday. It said Dai was accompanied by his wife, Vu Minh Khanh. Dai co-founded the Brotherhood, which is banned in the Communist country.

Dai, 49, and Ha, 36, were convicted of attempting to overthrow the government and sentenced to 15 years and 9 years in jail respectively in a trial in Hanoi in April. Four others convicted of the same crime were given prison sentences of 7 to 11 years. A high court on Monday rejected their appeals.

The six were found guilty of ties with the Brotherhood, whose stated goal is to defend human rights and seek to build a "democratic, progressive, just and civilized society in Vietnam." The court, however, determined that their purpose was to change the leadership of the Communist Party and build a multiparty system.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr confirmed that Dai, his wife and Ha were in Germany. She welcomed the release of Dai and Ha as "a noteworthy humanitarian step" and "a good signal to the international community."

Dozens of Vietnamese dissidents have been released and expelled to Western countries, mostly to the United States.

Vietnam and Germany are in a diplomatic row after Germany accused Vietnamese intelligence agents of kidnapping a Vietnamese businessman from a Berlin street in July. Berlin expelled two Vietnamese diplomats in response.

Vietnam claims that Trinh Xuan Thanh, former chairman of PetroVietnam's construction arm who was seeking asylum in Germany, returned voluntarily.

Thanh was given two life sentences earlier this year on charges of embezzlement.

Despite sweeping economic reforms since the mid-1980s that made it one of fastest growing economies in the region, Vietnam maintains tight control over almost all aspects of life including the media and religions. It tolerates no challenge to its one-party rule.

Some Western governments and international human rights groups have criticized Vietnam for jailing those who peacefully express their views, but Hanoi says only law breakers are punished.

Amnesty International says 97 people are serving prison sentences for violating national security laws while Human Rights Watch counts 119.

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