Vietnam on Wednesday freed a prominent human rights lawyer who had served more than three years of a five year jail sentence for trying to overthrow the regime.

Le Cong Dinh was released from prison ahead of the lunar new year and because his mother’s health is poor, his sister-in-law said.

Dinh, who had been detained since 2009, was one of four democracy activists convicted in January 2010. His sentence also included three years of house arrest after his release which he will still officially have to serve even though freed from jail early, AFP reports.

Human rights groups and the European Union condemned Dinh’s trial amid the Communist regime’s crackdown on free expression.

Charges of spreading anti-state propaganda and attempting to overthrow the regime are routinely laid against peaceful dissidents, rights groups say.

At least 33 activists have been jailed in 2012 for exercising their civil and political rights which are penalized by the one-party state, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Authorities arbitrarily arrest activists, hold them incommunicado for long periods without access to legal counsel or family visits, subject them to torture, and prosecute them in politically pliant courts that mete out long prison sentences,” Human Rights Watch said in its recent annual report.

On Monday, Vietnam handed tough sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment to 22 activists in one of the country’s largest subversion trials for years.