Vietnam to free 18,200 prisoners in amnesty but no activists

Vietnam to free 18,200 prisoners in amnesty but no activists

HANOI - Vietnam on Friday said it will free more than 18,200 prisoners to mark its independence day celebrations, but political activists will be excluded from the country's second biggest-ever amnesty.

The detainees will be released in batches starting from Monday ahead of the communist nation's 70th National Day anniversary, which falls on September 2.

"The President has decided to give amnesty to 18,298 prisoners... but none of them have committed crimes against national security," said Deputy Minister of Public Security Le Quy Vuong at a press conference in Hanoi.

The prisoners to be freed had been sentenced to a range of crimes including murder, drug and people-trafficking and bribery.

But no one sentenced for "propaganda" against the state or attempting to overthrow the regime -- charges frequently used against activists -- were among the list to be released.

Vietnam's biggest amnesty was conducted in 2009 when 20,599 prisoners were freed, officials said.

This year 34 foreigners - including six Laotians, one Cambodian, one Thai, two Australians, 16 Chinese, six Malaysians and two Filipinos - will also be released.

Officials did not clarify which crimes the foreign prisoners were serving sentences for.

"The amnesty reflects the humanitarian nature of the (Communist) Party and state of Vietnam, and is aimed at encouraging the inmates to become useful citizens," Giang Son, deputy manager of the president's office, told reporters at the press conference.

Vietnam has been widely condemned by rights groups and Western governments for its intolerance of political dissent and systematic violations against freedom of religion.

Scores of dissidents remain locked up in Vietnam's jails despite calls for their release.

On Friday Vuong denied to clarify the total number of prisoners currently detained, saying the figures were "national secrets that cannot be revealed".

Vietnam's last prisoner amnesty was in 2013 when more than 15,000 inmates were freed.

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

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