US criticizes arrest of prominent Vietnam activist

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is urging Vietnam to allow its citizens to express their political views without fear of retribution following the detention of a prominent human rights activist.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the U.S. is deeply concerned by the arrest last week of 46-year-old Nguyen Van Dai under a national security provision of Vietnam's penal code.

Kirby urged the government to release unconditionally all prisoners of conscience.

Dai is a former human rights lawyer. He is accused of spreading anti-state propaganda. His detention comes as the ruling Communist Party prepares for its five-year congress next year.

Vietnam's relations with the U.S. have improved significantly in recent years, but its human rights record remains a sore point.

Human Rights Watch says Vietnam holds at least 130 political prisoners.

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