Vietnam deported an American woman who was convicted last week on terrorism charges for plotting to seize radio airwaves to call for an uprising against the communist government, her brother and a court official said Monday.
Nguyen Thuong “Cuc” Foshee, 58, of Orlando, Fla., flew out of the country from the Ho Chi Minh City airport Monday morning, said her brother, Nguyen Phu Tri, who dropped her off at the immigration department.
Phan Tanh, deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court, said the court decided to release Foshee 29 days before the end of her 15-month sentence because of health reasons. She had been held without charge since September 2005 before being convicted Friday with six others.
The case had attracted Washington’s attention just before President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to make their first visit to Hanoi for the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. It’s Vietnam’s biggest-ever event.
Tri, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, said Foshee was released from prison Sunday evening and put in a hotel, where she stayed with him, their mother and other relatives.
Another brother then accompanied her on a United Airlines to San Francisco on Monday morning, Tri said. U.S. consular officials were also at the airport to facilitate her departure.
Tanh said Foshee was released after she requested an early departure for medical reasons. She suffers from high blood pressure and heart problems, he said.
Two others face deportation
Two other U.S. citizens who were convicted along with Foshee were expected to serve out the remaining three weeks of their of terms before being deported, Tanh said. The three were given lenient sentences after the judge concluded they had repented and had no previous criminal records.
Four Vietnamese nationals also received the same sentences. All seven defendants had faced punishments ranging from 12 years in prison to death by firing squad.
Washington had pressured Vietnam to hold a speedy and fair trial, and the issue would likely have spilled over into APEC without Friday’s conclusion. The case had also attracted attention from Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who raised the issue with the Bush administration and reportedly vowed to block a key vote in Congress that would normalize trade relations between the former foes.
It is highly unusual for Vietnam to give a lenient sentence for national security crimes, especially in such a high-profile case. But Presiding Judge Vu Phi Long told reporters after the one-day trial that outside pressure did not influence the decision.
Plot traced to Calif. group
Prosecutors said the plan to take over the airwaves was devised by the Government of Free Vietnam, a California-based organization the Vietnamese government considers a terrorist group.
Many of its leaders are soldiers of the former South Vietnamese Army who fled Vietnam after the war ended in 1975. The organization is run by Chanh Huu “Tony” Nguyen, who is wanted in Vietnam for failed plots to bomb the Vietnamese Embassy in Thailand and buildings in Vietnam.
Nguyen, a permanent U.S. resident, was arrested at Vietnam’s request in April while traveling in South Korea. He was held for three months before being released to the U.S.
Prosecutors said the defendants convicted Friday set up an adoption agency in Cambodia as a front to disguise their plans. Authorities seized their equipment, including 14 radio transmitters, which had been smuggled into the southern Vietnamese province of An Giang.
Under questioning from the judge, some of the defendants acknowledged carrying radio equipment to Cambodia on behalf of the Government of Free Vietnam, while others described themselves as employees at an adoption agency.