The Houston native, arrested June 10, received the lightest punishment possible after facing a sentence of up to seven years in prison, Trinh Vinh Phuc, one of Nguyen’s lawyers, said at the conclusion of the morning trial in Ho Chi Minh City.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked the country’s leaders to quickly resolve his case, and members of Congress called for his release.

“We are pleased that the case of U.S. citizen William Nguyen has been resolved,” said U.S. Embassy Spokesperson James Thrower. “We understand from the court’s decision that he will be deported after paying a fine. The United States has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens.”

Nguyen was arrested the day after arriving in Vietnam as a tourist during a demonstration against proposed special economic zones that locals fear would lead to Chinese encroachment, and cybersecurity legislation they believe will curb online freedoms.

The relatively quick resolution of the case underscores export-dependent Vietnam’s desire to forge closer economic ties with the U.S., its third-largest trading partner.

Nguyen’s arrest called attention to Vietnam’s crackdown on public expression and internet freedoms. U.S. lawmakers have also raised concerns over the new cybersecurity law that requires companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. to store data of local users in the country.

“Many people got surprised by the verdict,” lawyer Phuc said. “The verdict reflects the care about bilateral diplomacy.”

Nguyen is expected to fly back to the U.S. in a day or two, Phuc said. The graduate of Yale University promised not to contest the verdict and will be allowed to return to Vietnam, he said. “Everyone is happy as the verdict satisfied the expectations of Will, his family and the lawyers,” Phuc said.

Security was tight during the hearing as scores of police blanketed the streets outside the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City. Barricades were placed on corners and security told Vietnamese taking pictures to delete images from their devices.

“Will is just a normal guy who didn’t commit any crime. He just attended the protests,” said Ho Chi Minh City resident Nguyen Thi Hien, 54, who with a handful of other curious Vietnamese were turned away from observing the trial. “Will acted out of his love for his country but the way they treat the trial it is as if he were a dangerous criminal.”

Expressing ‘Regret’

A court in the southeastern province of Binh Thuan on July 12 sentenced six Vietnamese to as many as 30 months in jail after being convicted of “disturbing public order” in front of the local government’s headquarters June 10 and 11, according to Tuoi Tre newspaper. A minor was given 18 months probation.

Nguyen’s arrest was captured on video, and shows him bloodied and being dragged away and beaten. In a police video broadcast on state television last month, he acknowledged violating Vietnamese law, expressed “regret” for disrupting traffic and promised not to participate in activities against the government.

Nguyen had expected to receive a master’s degree on July 14 from the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said his sister, Victoria Nguyen, who was in Vietnam for the trial.

Nguyen told his mother Vicky Nguyen during her 30-minute visit with him in jail July 17 that he was kept with 13 others in a cell with a large window, and wasn’t sleeping well but was teaching English to fellow inmates, Victoria Nguyen said.

By John Boudreau & Mai Ngoc Chau - Bloomberg - July 19, 2018