HANOI — Vietnamese officials on Wednesday released and deported an American prodemocracy activist detained since April, a move that contrasts with the long prison terms given to Vietnamese activists who are members of the same US-based dissident group.
The release of Nguyen Quoc Quan, 59, came after US diplomatic pressure and removes an obvious thorn in relations between the countries. Both countries are trying to strengthen their ties in large part because of shared concerns over China’s emerging military and economic might, but American concerns over human rights in Vietnam are complicating this.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said Quan had ‘‘confessed to his crime’’ and asked for leniency to be reunited with his family. His wife, Huong Mai Ngo, suggested that Hanoi was seeking a face-saving way of allowing him to go home.
‘‘I don’t believe it. They say that about everybody,’’ she said from Sacramento, Calif. ‘‘If my husband was prepared to do that (confess), he could have been released nine months ago.’’
Quan, an American citizen, was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City’s airport in April after arriving from the United States, where he has lived since fleeing Vietnam as a young man. He is a leading member of Viet Tan, a nonviolent prodemocracy group that Vietnamese officials have labeled a terrorist group. He was detained in 2007 in Vietnam for six months, also on charges relating to prodemocracy activities.
Authorities initially accused Quan of terrorism, but he was later charged with subversion against the state, which carries penalties ranging from 12 years in prison to death. Earlier this month, 14 Vietnamese activists associated with Viet Tan were sentenced to up to 13 years in jail.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it had no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens abroad.