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O.C. Man Home After 2 Years in Vietnam Prison

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Santa Ana man imprisoned for the last two years in Vietnam arrived home Tuesday night with a Houston man who had been imprisoned with him, both suspected of plotting to overthrow the government.

Liem Quang Tran, 45, an electronics technician and human-rights activist, and Tri Tan Nguyen, who owns a Vietnamese restaurant in Houston, were imprisoned in November, 1993, after they flew to Vietnam to help set up a pro-democracy conference, said Nhut Tran, chairman of the Alliance for Democracy in Vietnam, an international organization headquartered in Santa Ana.

“I think they will rest for awhile, but they are still thinking of fighting for freedom and democracy and human rights in Vietnam,” said Nhut Tran, who met the men at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday night after their long flight from Bangkok.

The men were released from a Ho Chi Minh City prison Thursday and arrived in Bangkok on Saturday, he said.

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For nearly two years, Liem Tran and Nguyen sat in prison with no formal charges against them, Nhut Tran said. But in August, after the United States re-established diplomatic ties with Vietnam, the government sentenced Liem Tran to four years in prison and Nguyen to seven years “for trying to overthrow the government,” Nhut Tran said.

The men had gone to Vietnam in the summer of 1993 “to unite the movement and build democracy and to organize a conference,” and they were arrested just months later, Nhut Tran said. On Tuesday, the men looked healthy, he said, noting that they were treated “not very well” in prison. The former prisoners told reporters that they had no bed for two years.

Nhut Tran said the release came just weeks after both men’s families went to Washington to appeal to the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Senate for help in obtaining their release. The families pointed to the case of Chinese American dissident Harry Wu, who was released earlier this year from a Chinese prison after considerable U.S. pressure.

“They asked, ‘Why has the U.S. helped with the release of Wu [and not Liem Tran and Nguyen] when they have been in this country for 18 years, paying taxes?’ ” Nhut Tran said.

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Both men have lived in the United States since 1975.

The International Committee for Free Vietnam, with members across the globe, also pressured for the release of the men, Nhut Tran said.

Tuesday night, Liem Tran planned to go back to his Santa Ana home with his sister, Nguyet Tran, and his 16-year-old son, who had both been on the trip to Washington last month.

Nguyen continued on to Washington late Tuesday and planned to speak today to a congressional panel about human rights in Vietnam. The panel is chaired by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.).

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In August, U.S. officials reported that at least 12 Vietnamese Americans were imprisoned in Vietnam, five of them from Southern California, but the number is believed to be higher, because many cases go unreported.

Vietnamese Ambassador Bang Van Le has said that in Vietnam, anti-government propaganda and associations are classified as criminal.


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