A Vietnamese who helped ethnic Chinese flee political persecution by smuggling them into China won a legal victory yesterday in his fight to be recognised as a refugee. Phung Dao Khang, 42, was alleged to have been interned for 8.5 years after the Vietnamese authorities caught him helping his uncle across the border. He said he was tortured and accused of spreading anti-government propaganda. After his release he was expelled to a harsh 'new economic zone' where he was made to work for no pay, the Court of First Instance heard. But Mr Phung fell foul of officials by organising a protest when his friend died after camp bosses denied him medical attention. He was arrested, beaten and threatened with 'a very long period of detention'. Mr Phung escaped and fled to Hong Kong in July 1989, but his request for refugee status was rejected. Government screeners implied Mr Phung had lied because it was 'incomprehensible' he would have been interned for 8.5 years for helping his uncle. They said there was no proof of political persecution. But counsel Keith Oderberg accused the refugee status review board of indulging in unacceptable speculation. Mr Justice Brian Keith yesterday granted Mr Phung leave to challenge the board's decision in court after agreeing he may have been a victim of political persecution.