Rights and democracy activists have petitioned top Vietnamese government officials to free all prisoners of conscience jailed for dissident views. They said more than 170 people are in jail after being convicted of attempting to overthrow the communist government, conducting anti-state campaigns and abusing democratic freedom to infringe the state's interests. The prisoners had only expressed their views or criticized policies of the government and the Communist Party, they added. "Some were arrested and convicted of causing public disorder or tax evasion, even the sex trade, but the actual reason behind those arrests was their political dissent from the ruling party," they said. Their petition was sent to President Tran Dai Quang, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, National Assembly chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong. The online petition dated Feb. 3 has drawn nearly 500 signatures so far. Signatories also demanded officials "immediately free two female dissidents, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh
and Tran Thi Nga, because they are innocent and are single mothers who have to take care of their small children." Quynh, a Catholic blogger known as Mother Mushroom, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 for propaganda against the government. Her mother, Nguyen Tuyet Lan, said she visited Quynh in prison for 10 minutes on Feb. 5. "Quynh is in poor health and suffers high blood pressure," she said. Nga was convicted of propaganda against the government and sentenced to nine years in jail in July 2017. The petition also asked the government to show that Vietnam respects freedom of speech and democratic values so that it can regain people's confidence and build a democratic and progressive state.