Myanmar on Friday released 302 political prisoners, including several prominent activists and ethnic leaders.

'Vietnam should follow Burma's example by immediately releasing its political prisoners, starting with those that Hanoi has imprisoned under so-called 'national security' articles of the penal code that penalize basic human rights,' said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

Myanmar's move was part of a series of reforms, including allowing the main opposition party to register for upcoming by-elections and signing ceasefires with ethnic minority rebels to persuade Western nations to lift sanctions.

In a visit last year, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said he supported the road map towards democratization and urged Myanmar to make greater efforts to hold free elections in 2010.

'It's frankly astonishing that at the same time Vietnam's prime minister was expressing support for free elections and the so-called road map to democracy in Burma, his government has intensified its crackdown on rights activists and dissidents,' Robertson said

Vietnam released dissident Pham Minh Hoang Friday after 17 months in jail. He was sentenced to three years for 'attempting to overthrow the government,' but an appeals court reduced it in November, citing his cooperation with police and his commitment to renounce the banned pro-democracy group Viet Tan.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - January 17, 2012