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Democracy activist arrives home after release by Vietnam

January 30, 2013 | 10:53 pm

Nguyen Quoc Quan

An American democracy activist accused of trying to overthrow the Vietnamese government returned home to Southern California on Wednesday night, more than nine months after he was first detained in Saigon.

U.S. citizen Nguyen Quoc Quan was met by a crowd of about 100 supporters when he walked out of customs at Los Angeles International Airport about 8:15 p.m. They cheered and waved U.S. and Vietnamese flags.

Three generations of family members waited for him at the gate: his mother-in-law, wife and two sons. They embraced in a group hug, tears streaming. The crowd then moved to a corner of the airport lounge, where Nguyen held an impromptu news conference.

He said that for nine months he was held in a cell measuring 9 feet by 9 feet and that a government monitor was assigned to stay in the same space with him. Nguyen said he had no contact with the outside, except for a monthly visit from a member of the U.S. Consulate in Saigon.

While grateful to be free, he said he worried about the dozens of political prisoners left behind. “They are the people I cherish,” he said.

Nguyen was arrested in April and faced subversion charges in connection with his activism with the banned political party and democracy group Viet Tan. Though the United Nations human rights office and other watchdogs say the banned party is a peaceful organization, Vietnam deems it a terrorist group.

The Orange County man had trained other activists in nonviolent resistance and computer skills and recruited people in Vietnam to his cause, according to a translated copy of his indictment.

Nguyen's release was unexpected and comes amid a recent rash of charges against dissidents in Vietnam that have triggered global condemnation and have raised concerns about the country's increased strategic engagement with the United States.

Nguyen said Wednesday night that he thought constantly about his family during the darkest hours of his detainment. He said that he wrote a poem for his wife but that he said his Communist jailers would not deliver it.

His two sons, Khoa and Tri, were at the airport to surprise their father. Khoa, the eldest, is a student at UC Davis and drove down to meet his father’s plane.

“Since my dad was so dedicated to his cause, our belief in him kept us going,” Khoa said. “It feels amazing to have him back. In this, I have to thank my mom for her work bringing attention to his imprisonment. She’s like the rock star and my dad is the co-singer.”

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-- Anh Do at LAX and Emily Alpert

Photo: Democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Quan is greeted at LAX on Wednesday evening by his wife, Huong Mai Ngo, and other family members and supporters. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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