Vietnamese dissident Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as "Mother Mushroom", was released from prison on Wednesday and left Vietnam on a flight to the United States, sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.
Quynh, one of Vietnam's most prominent dissidents, was serving a 10-year-sentence for anti-state propaganda.
"Mother Mushroom departed Vietnam today for the United States," one source told Reuters. "She is flying with her children and mother."
Vietnam's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam referred Reuters' questions to the Vietnamese government. Quynh's mother was not reachable by telephone.
News of the release came shortly after U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis left Vietnam. It was not known if the release had any connection with his visit. Mattis arrived there on Tuesday and left for Singapore on Wednesday.
A Pentagon spokesman did not immediately comment when asked
about the timing of the release.
Despite sweeping economic reform in Vietnam, and increasing openness towards social change, Vietnam's ruling Communist Party does not tolerate criticism that it deems threatens its rule.
A blogger and environmental activist, Quynh was among 13 women to receive an International Women of Courage Award last year. The awards were presented by U.S. First Lady Melania Trump.
She was arrested for posting what police described as anti-state reports, including one about civilians dying in police custody.
Last year, she was jailed for 10 years for publishing propaganda against the state, following a surge in crackdowns on dissidents since 2016, when more conservative leaders cemented their power in top party positions.
Quynh is the second dissident released this year. A prominent human rights lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai, was released from prison in June and went to Germany.
The news should serve as a reminder of Vietnam's worsening record of jailing anyone who criticises the regime, said Nicholas Bequelin, human rights group Amnesty International's regional director for east and southeast Asia.
"While Mother Mushroom is no longer imprisoned, the condition for her release was exile," he added, saying that more than 100 people were languishing in jail because they peacefully spoke their minds, whether in public, on blogs or on Facebook.
Source: Voice of America