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Vietnam cuts jail term of French-Vietnamese blogger

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(HANOI) - A Vietnamese court on Tuesday halved the jail sentence of a French-Vietnamese blogger whose release has been sought by Paris and the European Union, his lawyer said.

Pham Minh Hoang, who has dual nationality, will now be freed on January 13 after serving a 17-month sentence for attempted subversion, lawyer Tran Vu Hai told AFP.

Hoang will still have to serve three years' house arrest after his release, said Hai, who had hoped for greater leniency at the hearing, which lasted less than half a day in Ho Chi Minh City.

"I struggled a lot for him and of course, in my opinion, it would have been better if my client was immediately freed at the appeal process."

Hoang, who was arrested in August 2010, was originally sentenced in August this year to three years in prison for attempted subversion.

At that trial, a court in the southern city ruled that Hoang wrote 33 articles under the pen name Phan Kien Quoc, "blackening the image of the country" and aiming to topple the government.

Hoang, 56, expressed regret at his trial and asked for leniency.

"My writings were not aimed at overthrowing anyone," he testified at the time. "I only pointed out the negative things in society, and I think the country needs to be more democratic."

Rights groups had called for the appeals court to overturn the conviction and immediately release the blogger.

"Hoang was just expressing his views on subjects of public interest in Vietnam, a right guaranteed by the country's constitution," said Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

Human Rights Watch said Hoang should never have been arrested in the first place.

"Peaceful activists like Pham Minh Hoang deserve to be heard by their fellow citizens, not silenced by the courts," the New York-based watchdog said in a statement.

Ahead of the appeal, Hai told AFP there were humanitarian reasons for a less severe punishment because Hoang's parents are almost 90 years old and he has a disabled brother.

Hoang went to France in 1973 but returned after 27 years to settle in Vietnam, where he worked as a mathematics lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City, his wife has said.

In September France said it was "deeply disappointed" that its call for Hoang to be freed under a routine annual amnesty had not been heeded.

Dozens of peaceful political critics have been sentenced to long prison terms since Vietnam launched a crackdown on free expression in late 2009, according to Amnesty International.

Vietnam, a one-party state, says it has achieved significant progress on human rights.

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