Independence Day marked by prisoner release

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 September, 2002, 12:00am

A special amnesty freeing thousands of prisoners at the weekend marked festivities for Independence Day today.

Members of Vietnam's central highlands ethnic groups participated in the celebrations, showcasing costumes, dances and wine-drinking rituals.

But for many the real reason to celebrate occurred on Saturday when jail doors across the country swung open to release 6,110 prisoners. Many of them were selected for release by a vote of their fellow inmates.

'At each penitentiary, the wardens announced the criteria for early release and the prisoners looked at those and looked into themselves to see whether they met those conditions,' the deputy Public Security Minister, Le The Tiem, said. 'The penitentiary then made a list of the prisoners meeting the criteria and organised a vote for all prisoners to take part in.'

Each prison then used the results of the vote to compile a list of recommendations. During the past few weeks, local newspapers published photographs of women prisoners in striped prison uniforms casting their votes.

'It's a democratic, open and fair process and the prisoners whom we talk to have all learned by heart the conditions they have to meet. The voting is also very fair and democratic,' Mr Tiem added.

Presidential amnesties are fairly frequent in Vietnam, being held every two or three years. Since 1990, more than 40,000 prisoners have been released, in addition to those set free under other release programmes run by local judicial authorities.

In the last round of presidential pardons in 2000, almost 24,000 people were set free.

Special parole is allowed for inmates who have behaved well, have served a third of their sentences or are old or sick.

Vietnam has consistently denied it has political prisoners despite regular reports on the arrest or imprisonment of dissidents by the US State Department and international human rights groups. 'No one is arrested or detained for raising democratic or human rights matters,' said Nguyen Canh Dinh, director of President Tran Duc Luong's office.

The releases included 14 from Australia, Cambodia, China, Laos and the United States convicted of drug, prostitution or money counterfeiting offences.

Two Vietnamese nationals accused of spying were also released. Many prisoners have to pay compensation before they are allowed out, but they are also entitled to resettlement help.

Officials said less than 15 per cent of those released in 2000 had committed another crime. They declined to say how many prisoners still remain behind bars.

Revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh declared independence from French colonial rule on September 2, 1945.