The independent blogger, Ta Phong Tan, believes her release from prison at the weekend after serving three years of a ten year sentence was down to foreign pressure on the Vietnamese government.
Speaking to Vietnam Right Now from exile in Los Angeles, she remained defiant, saying she had made no concessions to the authorities and would continue to fight for human rights.
Ms Tan was convicted of “anti-state propaganda” in 2012 after writing about human rights abuses and corruption.
The former police woman and member of the Communist Party is one of Vietnam’s best known dissident bloggers. Her defiance in the court room led to one of the stiffest sentences handed out to a political prisoner.
“I believe I was released now because of direct pressure from the United States government as well as representations made by other countries and the Vietnamese community overseas,” she said.
The police came to her in prison a month before her release and tried to get her to sign a document admitting guilt.
“They said I should ask for forgiveness and special consideration and admit I was guilty of the charges they brought against me,” she said.
“But I would not say I was sorry. I said they should apologise to me for the way I’ve been treated.”
She was later given the option of continued imprisonment or exile in the United States and was allowed to meet diplomats from the U.S. embassy.
Ms Tan was released from prison and immediately put on a flight to Los Angeles, where she was given a rapturous
reception by members of the Vietnamese community and by her fellow blogger, Nguyen Van Hai, known to readers in Vietnam as Dieu Cay.
He was released into exile in a similar deal last year.
Some other political prisoners have been given the option of exile but have refused to leave the country.
It is a controversial tactic that has been condemned by human rights activists.
“This release continues Vietnam’s cynical practice of releasing high profile dissidents from prison directly into forced exile, with immediate departure from the country being the price of their freedom,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch in comments quoted by Reuters.
He said that these methods actually reflected a tightening of political control.
Ms Tan said she would continue to campaign for human rights from the United States. She said she would not be able to return home until the legal system conformed to international standards.
She’s optimistic about the long term future but says the current situation is very difficult for those advocating change.
“The government has better tools to control the media these days. There are more laws and decrees at their disposal to restrict freedom of expression,” she said.
“But there are also far more voices willing to speak up as well, more bloggers who are prepared to challenge the power of the government.”
Ta Phong Tan said she had remained defiant during her four years behind bars, including the year she spent on remand awaiting trial.
“I insisted that I be treated in accordance with the laws and I knew my rights, so I think I got better treatment. I’m sure they were also concerned that news of any ill treatment would get out to the international community.”
But other prisoners were often “treated like animals”, packed together in confined spaces and too afraid to speak up and demand their rights.
The greatest tragedy came when her mother set herself on fire outside a government office to protest against her imprisonment. She later died from her injuries.
The United States welcomed her release. A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Hanoi called on the government to release other political prisoners saying Vietnamese people should be allowed to express their political views without fear of retribution.
Other groups also called for the government to stop its efforts to silence dissidents and government critics.
“The release of Vietnamese blogger Ta Phong Tan is gratifying news, but Vietnam is still holding more than a dozen journalists behind bars in connection with their work,” said Bob Dietz, the Asia programme coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“Vietnamese authorities should do all they can, including repeal the country’s harsh anti-press laws, to ensure that journalists are able to work and report freely.”
Ta Phong Tan says she’s fully aware that the government will try to present her as an anti-state activist operating among the Vietnamese community in the United States.
“They can do all sorts of cruel and unethical things against their opponents, but I believe ordinary people will understand who is really standing up for Vietnam,” she said.
Expelling government critics was not going to work as a tactic for government, she insisted.
“All it does is show the world that Vietnam does not have a fair legal system and can behave in an arbitrary manner.”
There was no immediate comment on her release from the Vietnamese government and no coverage in the mainstream press.
The news was widely discussed on independent blogs and social media networks.