Dissidents are hopeful that political detainees will be included in a mass amnesty for prisoners announced by the government for later this year.
The Public Security Ministry said up to 17,000 prisoners would be released to mark National Day on September 2 – the largest ever such amnesty.
“I hope prisoners of conscience will be included,” said Nguyen Van Dai, a prominent human rights lawyer who recently completed a term of four years in prison and four of house arrest on charges of using anti-state propaganda.
He said he had heard from security officials that about seven prisoners of conscience could be freed, including the prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, known as Ba Sam, who was jailed last year for “abusing democratic freedoms” under article 258 of the penal code.
There is no official confirmation of any such intention and other analysts remain sceptical.
The government has said nothing about the prospects for release of any of Vietnam’s 120 prisoners of conscience
The Deputy Minister of Public Security, Le Quy Vuong, said the amnesty could come into effect before the holiday so the released prisoners could celebrate the 70th anniversary of Vietnam’s declaration of independence.
Another official was quoted as saying that foreign inmates who had shown good behaviour could also be included.
There was no other detail on what criteria would be applied.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, said it was important to chose the inmates for release carefully to ensure what he called the transparency, correctness and strictness of laws.
Observers see little evidence of transparency.
They say the prisoners chosen for release could give clues about the current political climate at top levels of the Communist Party.
Mr Dai is optimistic.
He detects some signs that repression has eased slightly in recent months, although the police and their proxies do continue to harass, threaten and intimidate bloggers and civil society activists.
He says some well known dissidents are not being followed as closely as in the past and some have been able to travel more freely.
“Everything depends of international pressure,” he told Vietnam Right Now. At the moment the government badly wants to negotiate the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade agreement with the United States, he said.
“The government does not want to risk criticism of its human rights record,” he said – at a time when it trying hard to win friends in Washington.