Activists excluded from Vietnam prisoner amnesty

HANOI - Vietnam will free more than 15,000 convicts to mark its independence day celebrations, the president's office said Thursday, in a major amnesty that excludes prominent political prisoners.

The 15,446 detainees, including 1,842 women, will be released for the 68th National Day anniversary which falls on Monday, said Giang Son, an official in President Truong Tan Sang's office.

The mass pardon is one of the country's largest in recent years.

But no prisoners sentenced for "propaganda" against the state or attempting to overthrow the communist regime - charges frequently used against activists - appear on the amnesty list seen by AFP.

Among those to be released are four prisoners sentenced for national security crimes, including two ethnic minority Montagnards from the restive Central Highlands, vice-minister of public security General Le Quy Vuong told reporters.

Sixteen foreigners - five Chinese, four Cambodians, two Taiwanese, two Malaysians, one American, one Australian and one Belgian - will also be released. They were jailed for "violations of social order", drug crimes or human trafficking.

Vietnam is regularly denounced by rights groups and Western governments for its intolerance of political dissent and systematic violations of freedom of religion.

Scores of dissidents have been jailed in recent years for anti-state activity in Vietnam - where the Communist Party forbids all political debate - including 46 activists so far in 2013.

US officials said in June that Vietnam was holding more than 120 political prisoners.

They include blogger Nguyen Van Hai - alias Dieu Cay - who recently went on hunger strike for 25 days in prison to protest at his treatment during a 12-year sentence for anti-state propaganda.

National day marks the declaration of independence on September 2, 1945 by Ho Chi Minh, the founder of the Vietnamese Communist Party.