Vietnam Campaign Follows Intensification of Repression.greenspun.com : LUSENET : Vietnamese American Society : One Thread
Vietnam Campaign Follows Intensification of Repression.
PEN Members and Friends of PEN conducted a coordinated, worldwide campaign from February 17 through March 17, 2003 to focus attention on the plight of colleagues currently in prisons in Vietnam. This campaign, which was launched in response to a recent intensification of repression of the right to write by the Vietnamese authorities, focused on ten writers currently in prison or under house arrest. They are:
Le Chi Quang- an attorney and dissident writer currently serving a sentence of four years' imprisonment and three years' house arrest for the "dissemination of propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam."
Bui Minh Quoc - a journalist and dissident currently under formal house arrest on charges of "possessing anti-government literature", including his own writings.
Tran Van Khue - a writer and scholar currently thought to be under house arrest in connection with a letter, which was distributed over the Internet, protesting recent border accords between Vietnam and China.
Nguyen Dinh Huy- Former newspaper editor and leading figure in the pro-democracy organization, Movement for National Unity and Building Democracy currently serving a fifteen year prison sentence.
Nguyen Xuan Tu (pen-name: Ha Si Phu)- a biologist, dissident and writer under effective house arrest since May 12, 2000 for "making contact with reactionaries living abroad to sabotage Vietnam and demanding the overthrow of the socialist regime and the leadership of the Communist Party."
Nguyen Vu Binh - a writer and leading member of the Democracy Club for Vietnam who was arrested in 2002 for writing an open letter to the government calling for political reform and the release of political prisoners. He has not been sentenced yet.
Pham Hong Son - a medical doctor and dissident writer arrested on charges of espionage for translating into Vietnamese an article entitled "What is Democracy" published on the website of the US embassy in Vietnam.
Le Dinh Nhan (religious name: Thich HUYEN Quang )- the acting Head of the Institute For The Propagation Of The Dharma, Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), An Quang Pagoda (Saigon). He was arrested for publishing an open letter criticising government policy on freedom of speech and religious expression. He is said to be held incommunicado in a house surrounded by guards.
Nguyen Van Ly - a priest, scholar and essayist sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and five years' probationary detention for publishing a written testimony, 'Violations of Human Rights in Vietnam,' on the internet.
Dang Phuc Tue (religious name: Thich Quang Do )- a Buddhist monk, writer, scholar, and the Secretary General of the outlawed Institute For The Propagation Of The Dharma, United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) who was sentenced to 2 years, 3 months' house arrest.
For full information on PEN's Vietnam Campaign and on how to send letters in support of these imprisoned writers, Please contact email@example.com
-- pen (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 15, 2004
Vietnam court upholds democracy activist's jail sentence By Matt Steinglass, Globe Correspondent | May 7, 2004
HANOI -- Vietnam's Supreme Court of Appeals has upheld the jail sentence of a democracy activist and former journalist for a communist publication who was convicted of espionage after publishing articles critical of government policy and giving testimony to a US human rights panel.
Nguyen Vu Binh, who had been sentenced to seven years in jail followed by three years of house arrest, announced he would go on a hunger strike until he is freed.
''For me, it's either freedom or death," he declared in his final statement to the court on Wednesday.
In December 2000, Binh, 35, resigned from the Communist Party ideological review, Communist Review (Tap Chi Cong San), and sent letters to the country's top political leaders announcing his intention to form an alternative political group, the Liberal Democratic Party. He went on to publish several articles critical of the government on the Internet.
In July 2002, Binh submitted testimony on Vietnam to the US Congressional Caucus on Human Rights. In August 2002, he posted an article criticizing the settlement demarcating the Vietnam-China border. He was arrested the following month, and convicted of espionage on Dec. 31, 2003.
The verdict stated Binh had exchanged information with foreign organizations that slandered Vietnam's Communist Party and government. The US State Department issued a strongly worded call for Binh's release. ''No individual should be imprisoned for the peaceful expression of his views," it stated, adding that the sentencing ''violates international standards of human rights." The State Department said it was particularly concerned that Binh may have been targeted because of his testimony to Congress.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, five people are currently jailed in Vietnam for airing critical views on the Internet or via e-mail. In June 2003, Internet essayist Pham Hong Son was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. After protests by foreign governments and human rights organizations, his sentence was reduced to five years on appeal. Foreign diplomats had expressed the hope that the appeals court would take a similar step for Binh.
Binh was accompanied inside the courtroom only by his wife, his father, and his lawyers. A small group of foreign diplomats and press gathered outside the courthouse, but were prevented from entering by dozens of uniformed and plainclothes security agents. Also refused entry were Binh's wife's family and several elderly Vietnamese political dissidents.
''Binh's family asked me to help defend him, but I haven't been permitted to enter," said dissident Hoang Minh Chinh, who waited on the street outside the courthouse. Chinh, 85, has been a fixture of Vietnam's tiny political opposition since being ousted from his post as director of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in 1964.
''They accuse Binh of espionage," Chinh said. ''How can he be a spy when he proclaims his opinions openly on the Internet?"
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
-- lu cho" thui (email@example.com), May 15, 2004.
Human Rights-Vietnam Briefing. For full transcript, visit: http://www.house.gov/lofgren/iss_humanrights_viet.pdf
Vietnam: “A People Silenced –The Vietnamese Government’s Assault on the Media and Access to Information”
Although bilateral relations between the U.S. and Vietnam have grown steadily in the past few years, the human rights situation remains very poor. According to the International Institute for Vietnam, Vietnam’s 500-plus newspapers and magazines are state-owned and vigorously censored. Approximately 2,000 of Vietnam’s 5,000 websites are currently blocked for disseminating messages the state has deemed “subversive” or “reactionary.” And Vietnam continues to issue harsh jail sentences to those who advocate the free exchange of ideas and information. Vietnamese journalist Pham Hong Son is currently serving a 13-year sentence for translating an essay into Vietnamese, titled “What is Democracy,” for an Internet site. Please join us as international and human rights groups provide expert testimony on the current situation in Vietnam and offer mechanisms for improvement.
Congressional Human Rights Caucus & Congressional Caucus on Vietnam Member’s Briefing
October 1, 2003
1. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren 2. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez 3. Congressman Edward Royce
Witness List for Vietnam Briefing
Ms. Nina Shea Vice Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Dr. Doan Viet Hoat Former publisher of an underground magazine in Vietnam who spent 21 years in a Vietnamese prison. [Written testimony only]
Mr. Nguyen Tu Cuong Executive Director of Vietnam Helsinki, a Vietnam human rights advocacy group based in Washington, DC.
Ms. Tala Dowlatshahi U.S. Representative for Reporters Without Borders
Mr. Pham Ngoc Lan San Jose resident and Vietnamese expatriate who operates Thong Luan, a website that posts writings from Vietnamese dissidents.
Mr. Daniel Do-Khanh President, Southern California chapter of the Vietnamese-American Public Affairs Committee.
Witness Biographies: Dr. Doan Viet Hoat – Former publisher of an underground magazine, Freedom Forum, in Vietnam that demanded release of political prisoners and fair elections. He spent 21 years in a Vietnamese prison for publishing his magazine. He has received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award (1993) and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award (1998). His case was taken up by the Robert F. Kennedy memorial Center for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch/Asia, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists. He was eventually released from prison in 1998 and currently resides in Virginia. [Written testimony only]
Mr. Nguyen Tu Cuong – Executive Director of Vietnam Helsinki, a Vietnam human rights advocacy group based in Washington, DC. Mr. Nguyen is a former community liaison for the Vietnamese American Community of Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia (VAC) and the former Vice-President of Washington-Area League of Vietnamese Mutual Assistance Associations. He has authored, edited, and translated numerous publications, articles and materials on human rights and immigration, including 1975- 1995: Religious Persecution in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; A New Life in America. Mr. Nguyen will read Dr. Hoat’s written testimony, as well as answer any questions in his own expertise.
Ms. Tala Dowlatshahi – U.S. Representative for Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontièrs). This international organization is based in Paris and condemns attacks on press freedom world-wide by defending journalists and other media professionals who have been imprisoned or persecuted for doing their work. It also speaks out against abusive treatment and torture, supports journalists who are being threatened in their own countries and provides financial and other support to their needy families. They publish an annual report on Vietnam and another annual report titled, “Obstacles to the Free Flow of Information Online.”
Mr. Pham Ngoc Lan – A San Jose resident and Vietnamese expatriate who operates the Thong Luan (shortened from the Vietnamese for "Information and Debate") website. This site posts writings from dissidents, both in Vietnam and abroad, and has been "firewalled" by the Vietnamese authorities to prevent free access by Vietnamese citizens. But people still use "proxies" to bypass government filters by masquerading the sites they are trying to reach. Mr. Pham Ngoc Lan is a leading member of the "Rally for Democracy and Pluralism", a political group formed 20 years ago, promoting democracy and pluralism using nonviolent means. Recently, Dr. Pham Hong Son was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for charges of espionage, after he used email to communicate with a leading member of the Rally for Democracy and Pluralism.
Daniel Do-Khanh – President of the Southern California chapter of the Vietnamese-American Political Action Committee and the Orange County Asian American Bar Association. Mr. Do-Khanh is an attorney with Stockwell, Harris, Widom & Woolverton in Orange, California. He sits on the Board of the Orange County Bar Association, the American Opportunity Foundation/Pacific, and the Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance. He is a co-founder of the Vietnamese American Coalition at the University of California at Irvine.
Ms. Nina Shea: Vice Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Dr. Doan Viet Hoat: Former publisher of an underground magazine in Vietnam who spent 21 years in a Vietnamese prison. [Written testimony only; Testimony read by Mr. Nguyen Tu Coung]
Mr. Nguyen Tu Cuong: Executive Director of Vietnam Helsinki, a Vietnam human rights advocacy group based in Washington, DC.
Ms. Tala Dowlatshahi: U.S. Representative for Reporters Without Borders
Mr. Pham Ngoc Lan: San Jose resident and Vietnamese expatriate who operates Thong Luan, a website that posts writings from Vietnamese dissidents.
Mr. Daniel Do-Khanh: President, Southern California chapter of the Vietnamese-American Public Affairs Committee. Transcript
1. Violations of Freedom of Expression and Information in Vietnam: A Report by the Campaign For Freedom of Expression and Information in Vietnam Report (CFEV)
2. Reporters Without Borders 2003 Annual Report on Vietnam
3. The Internet Under Surveillance (Chapter on Vietnam): A Report by Reporters Without Borders
4. Recent beatings that led to the deaths of victims of Oppression by the Vietnamese Government
Giang Thanh Phia
Vang Seo Su
Bills in Congress Related to Vietnam
H.R. 1587: Vietnam Human Rights Act H.R. 1019: Freedom of Information in Vietnam Act
H.R. 48: Global Internet Freedom Act
H.Res. 427: Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the courageous leadership of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and the urgent need for religious freedom and related human rights in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam .
A. Remarks by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren
I would like to welcome you to our briefing on the current state of freedom of speech in Vietnam. I’d like to give a special thanks to our witnesses for being here, especially those who flew all the way from California to be here today. The dismal state of freedom of the press and the lack of the free flow of information in Vietnam needs to be heard and I am pleased that you are all here to help us raise awareness in Congress and in the public.
It is discouraging to me that Congresswoman Sanchez and I have to continuously hold these briefings on a bi-annual basis. I certainly look forward, in great anticipation, to the day when we no longer need these briefings.
Unfortunately, Vietnamese citizens are being persecuted for communicating with the outside world at a time when the Vietnamese government is expressing interest in becoming more integrated with the global community.
The Vietnamese Constitution says “[t]he citizen shall enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, the right to be informed, and the right to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations in accordance with the provisions of the law.” However, the Vietnamese government has systematically suppressed the free flow of information and freedom of the press with decrees and directives that subvert the free flow of information under the guise of national security. There are persistent reports of imprisoned journalists and jammed radio and internet sites all over Vietnam.
Just a few weeks ago, relatives of a detained priest, Father Ly, were sentenced to three to five years for so-called “abuse of democratic freedoms” when it appears all they were doing was exercising those very democratic freedoms they supposedly abused.
Reporters without Borders says Tran Khue, a 67-year-old literature teacher and founder of an anti-corruption group, was arrested on December 29th, 2002 for posting government criticism on the internet. He has been held without trial and government authorities will not confirm or deny rumors that he may have died in detention.
On February 21st, 2002, Reporters Without Borders says Le Chi Quang was arrested at a cybercafe in Hanoi by an undercover police officer for allegedly posting “dangerous information” on the internet.
The International Institute for Vietnam reports that Professor Nguyen Dinh Huy, a journalist and writer, was arrested in 1993 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for urging the Vietnamese government to respect freedom of the press, expression, creativity, publication and dissemination of information. He remains in prison today.
In another report from the International Institute for Vietnam, Nguyen Khac Toan has been serving a 12-year sentence since December of 2002 for posting internet reports on peasant protests against government corruption staged in front of government buildings.
Worse yet is report after report of political dissidents detained without trial: Nguyen Vu Binh for allegedly advocating democracy in essays posted on the internet; Nguyen Dan Que, a physician and editor of an underground newsletter being held for more than 18 years in various hard labor camps. The list goes on and on.
Reporters Without Borders says that “Vietnam remains one of the world’s most repressive countries where the Internet is concerned.” They say, “[t]he [Vietnamese] government blocks access to websites it considers politically and morally ‘dangerous,’ including foreign news sites and those of human rights organizations set up by Vietnamese abroad.” Moreover, Reporters Without Borders says the government monitors the sites people visit and regularly hacks into websites they consider undesirable. One religious movement says the Vietnamese government sends computer viruses by e-mail to the movement’s followers.
This is unacceptable.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Reporters Without Borders, and the International Institute for Vietnam are not alone. Members of Congress have repeatedly sent letters to the Vietnamese government asking them to release prisoners of conscience and to refrain from various forms of political, religious, and cultural oppression. Nobel Peace Prize Laureates have written the Prime Minister of Vietnam on behalf of Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, a Vietnamese doctor who has been held in incommunicado detention since March 17, 2003. The US State Department has steadily called for the release of prisoners. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these requests seem to fall on deaf ears.
Until Vietnam stops oppressing its people, the Commission on International Religious Freedom, Reporters Without Borders, the International Institute for Vietnam, Members of Congress, and other organizations and individuals will continue to hold press conferences to raise awareness. We will form and participate in Congressional Caucuses that focus on human rights abuses in Vietnam. We will advocate for legislation such as the Vietnam Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information in Vietnam Act. We will hold Congressional briefings, like this one, to inform Congress and the public of Vietnam’s government restrictions on information and the media.
The world is watching and we will not cease until we see improvements in Vietnam.
B. The Honorable Loretta Sanchez
Vietnam – “A People Silenced – The Vietnamese Government’s Assault on the Media and Access to Information”
Good afternoon. I would like to welcome you, on behalf of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam, to today’s briefing. I would first like to thank Congressman Tom Lantos and Congressman Frank Wolfe, as well as my fellow Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam, Zoe Lofgren, for sponsoring today’s hearing. I would also like to express my gratitude to Dan Hoang for the technical assistance and advice he has provided along the way. He has been a tremendous resource to me and my office.
I know that Zoe is going to introduce each of our witnesses, but I would like to express my sincere thanks to each of you for appearing before us today.
It is through efforts such as these that we are able to give a voice to the many dissidents who are not only working for change in Vietnam, but who are suffering daily at the hands of the Vietnamese government.
Since the passage of the bilateral trade act in 2001, human rights conditions—which were poor to begin with—have deteriorated even further.
Although Vietnam has pledged to uphold the right to freedom of expression, including the right to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds,” the Government has, in fact, acted to the contrary.
The statistics speak for themselves:
Vietnam has no private ownership of its 500-plus newspapers and magazines; Approximately 2,000 of Vietnam’s 5,000 Internet sites are currently blocked for posting content that the state has deemed “subversive” or “reactionary;” Foreign journalists are subjected to harsh scrutiny when covering stories within Vietnam, and are often expelled if they are believed to be working against the interests of the State; Radio Free Asia is continually jammed; And journalists, poets, democracy and human rights advocates and “cyber dissidents” continue to be harassed, placed under house arrest, and issued harsh jail sentences.
Earlier this year, I sent a letter, which was signed by many of my colleagues, in protest of Dr. Pham Hong Son’s detention. As many of you know, Dr. Son was sentenced to 13 years for simply translating an article entitled “What is Democracy” and posting it on-line. 13 years!
As many of you know, Dr. Son’s sentence was ultimately reduced to 5 years after the international community vigorously protested his case.
This really gets to the heart of why it is so important that we continue to hold Congressional hearings such as these. As long as we continue to shed light on Vietnam’s brutal repression of its people, I think we will continue to make small steps towards the day the people of Vietnam are granted the freedoms they undoubtedly deserve. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and is an essential tool in weighing the transparency and openness of society. And Vietnam has a long way to go if it hopes to one day become a fully integrated member of the global community.
I’d like to turn the hearing over to my friend and colleague, Congresswoman Lofgren.
Again, thank you all for being here today. I look forward to hearing your testimony.
C. The Honorable Edward Royce’s Statement
I would like to thank the Congressional Human Rights Caucus for holding this important briefing.
I sit on the International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. During my time in Congress I have worked to expand the flow of information to countries whose governments restrict news and information. It has been a constant struggle. In this regard, Vietnam is no exception. Our panelists here today have been on the frontlines of this battle - we look forward to hearing their testimony.
I am afraid that Vietnam continues to restrict all forms of media, including the systematic jamming of broadcasts by Radio Free Asia and blocking of the Internet.
This spring, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que - a longtime human rights activist in Vietnam, was once again arrested. Que's arrest followed his March 13 statement, entitled "Communiqué on Freedom of Information in Vietnam," in which he criticized the Vietnamese government's refusal to implement political reforms and lift controls on the media. Dr. Que correctly noted, "The state hopes to cling to power by brain- washing the Vietnamese people through stringent censorship and through its absolutist control over what information the public can receive."
Vietnam has recently launched a state crackdown on Internet usage to oppress free speech. Cyber café owners and Internet service providers are now required by law to monitor customers' activities and prevent distribution of unsanctioned material.
In August, Pham Hong Son had his sentenced reduced from 13 to 5 years. His crime was writing and distributing online essays advocating political reform. A sentence reduction does not change this gave injustice.
He joins a growing list of students imprisoned for expressing support for either democracy or free speech on the Internet. This has sent a clear message to the Internet generation that freedom of expression will not be tolerated by the Vietnamese government. Reports estimate that the number of people online in Vietnam jumped to 1.3 million in 2002 from only 300,000 in 2001.
Vietnam's authoritarian regime knows that unrestricted access to news and information is a threat to their repressive rule - so they work to block access to the Internet. More and more young people are turning to the Internet to obtain international and domestic political, religious, and economic news and information.
That is why I, along with Rep. Lofgren, introduced H.R. 1019, the "Freedom of Information in Vietnam Act." This legislation will work to boost RFA broadcast to Vietnam, providing additional resources for another transmitter - to make the Vietnamese government's jamming efforts that much more difficult - as well as increasing broadcasts from 2 to 4 hours daily. In addition, the bill would establish a pilot project to combat Internet jamming and censorship by the Vietnamese government.
I am pleased that the State Department Authorization bill, which passed the House - included many of these provisions. It provides for an additional transmitter and creates an office of Global Internet Freedom to combat state-sponsored and state-directed Internet jamming. It is our hope that the Senate will act - and act soon - and maintain these critical provisions.
-- VN_TuDo (VN_TuDo@yahoo.com), May 15, 2004.
Testimony before the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam—A People Silenced: The Vietnamese Government’s Assault on the Media and Access to Information
By 1.Nina Shea, Vice-Chair The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Already Poor Human Rights Conditions have deteriorated in the last year: It’s Time to consider a new Approach.
Madame Chair, distinguished members of Congress, I want to commend you for holding this hearing on an important subject that deserves serious attention from Congress. Restrictions on free speech, freedom of religion and belief, and related human rights continue to be issues of critical concern in U.S.-Vietnam relations.
The title of this hearing is a particularly compelling one. The silencing of those who dissent from state orthodoxy—political reformers, free speech and democracy advocates, religious leaders and believers, and those fighting for the rights of ethnic minorities—that has invited international scrutiny of Vietnam’s human rights record and that has made human rights a constant irritant in our bilateral relations.
Religious freedom and free speech are closely related human rights. True religious freedom is when, as described by Article 18 of the United Nation’s Declaration on Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Freedom of religion allows for the freedom to publish ones’ opinion as well as publish sacred texts. It allows people to speak their minds or change their minds freely, and without interference from the state.
Vietnam’s constitution guarantees both freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but Vietnamese law regulates just what one can say, what information one can have, or what belief one can adopt or practice. That is why advocates of freedom of speech and freedom of religion are arrested for such vague offenses as “inciting social disorder,” “threatening national security,” “disrupting national unity,” or “violating Vietnamese values and traditions.”
Yesterday, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien and his delegation lunched with Members of Congress. The Foreign Minister hoped to educate House and Senate Members “about the democratic progress being made in Vietnam.” The Foreign Minister wants to expand relations between our two countries. But genuine, long-term friendship will only come about when the government of Vietnam respects international standards of human rights, including free speech and freedom of religion.
Since the BTA’s Passage: Taking a Step Backward on Human Right
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has followed events in Vietnam closely since the Commission’s inception four years ago. We have traveled to Vietnam and met with visiting Vietnamese delegations. In May of 2003, the Commission issued a report detailing its concerns that the Vietnamese government is engaged in serious and ongoing human rights abuses.
In fact, we found that already poor conditions in Vietnam have deteriorated in the last year. Key dissidents were imprisoned; others remain in prison or under house arrest. In addition, the government intensified its crackdown on religious and ethnic minorities in the northwestern provinces and the Central Highlands.
As a result, we recommended that the Secretary of State designate Vietnam as a country of particular concern (CPC).
The deteriorating human rights situation is particularly disappointing because there were hopes that expanded U.S.-Vietnamese economic ties would improve the human rights dialogue. After the passage of the Bilateral Trade Act of 2001, Vietnam’s exports to the US increased from $1.05 billion in 2001 up to $2.39 billion in 2002. The figure is forecasted to reach $3.8-4.19 billion this year, representing growth of 57-73% over the last year.
We all know the benefits of expanded trade, but respect for human rights and religious liberty should also be an integral part of U.S. relations with Vietnam. Our economic relationship has taken several steps forward, but in protecting human rights, Vietnam has taken a big step backward.
The Commission is not alone in this assessment. The State Department has voiced publicly its concerns about Vietnam’s human rights record, so has the European Union. In a recent report to Congress, the State Department admitted being “disappointed” by the lack of “concrete results” in the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral human rights dialogue. The State Department cited failure of the Vietnamese government to respond to U.S. concerns in several key areas, including religious freedom.
Recent events in Vietnam show that the Vietnamese government has not made significant progress to improve its human rights situation. Let me briefly give you some very recent examples that fit into a larger pattern of human rights abuses since the passage of the BTA in 2001.
· Fr. Nguyen Van Ly was sentenced to 15 years prison and 5 years administrative probation in October of 2001 after submitting testimony to our Commission in February of 2001. He was arrested for advocating freedom of religion and democratic reforms for his country.
· Fr. Ly’s niece and nephews were sentenced to between three and five years for “abusing democratic freedoms.” Their crime was providing documentation on their uncle’s arrest to the California- based Commission for Religious Liberty in Vietnam and the Que Huong radio station.
· In July 2003, the Venerable Thich Tri Luc was “discovered” in the custody of Vietnamese authorities in Hanoi. The Venerable had fled to Cambodia in April 2002 and disappeared from a UNHCR transit house in June of 2002. He was reportedly kidnapped and forcibly repatriated to Vietnam though his whereabouts were unknown for over a year. The Venerable is being charged with “immigration with intent to oppose the regime” which carries with it a sentence of between three years and life imprisonment. His trial date is pending.
· Pham Son Hong was sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges related to espionage and for “advocating democracy and a multi-party system.” His major crime was posting a Vietnamese translation of an essay “What is Democracy” which he pulled from the U.S. Embassy website. He was arrested and sentenced for nothing more than peacefully expressing his views. Though his sentenced was recently cut in half, he remains in prison. Hong was the fifth person arrested and charged with crimes relating to e-mail communications and Internet activity in the last year.
· Nguyen Van Lia was sentenced on July 1, 2003 to three years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” for holding a commemoration ceremony for the disappearance of Hao Hoa prophet Huynh Phu So.
· There are other recent cases involving the Central Highlands and northwest provinces.
o According to smuggled documents, Vietnamese authorities are still actively forcing Hmong Christian’s to sign pledges renouncing their faith—or face beatings, arrests, relocations, and school closing. There are also reports that some have been beaten to death.
o Recent reports from Cambodia show that Montagnards are still crossing the border to escape religious and political persecution. Vietnamese authorities are crossing the border in pursuit and offering rewards to Cambodians who help in their capture and forced repatriation.
Despite Vietnam’s economic reforms, recent events serve as a cautionary tale for anyone trying to measure the pace of political change in the country. The Government of Vietnam has shown, again and again, that it is determined to maintain strict control over speech, including the media and Internet, and to suppress religious freedom.
The U.S. government should maintain a consistent message—better relations will only proceed when Vietnam lives up to the international treaties on human rights that it has already signed or ratified. Until that time, human rights will always be a difficult part of our relationship.
U.S. Policy Recommendations
It is obvious that the current approach of the U.S. government to advance and protect religious freedom in Vietnam has failed to yield concrete results. It is time for us to consider a new approach, one that vigorously emphasizes human rights and utilizes all the tools of U.S. diplomacy.
As you all well know, the Congress is considering several pieces of legislation that would condemn Vietnam’s recent record on human rights, cap non-humanitarian foreign aid, improve ongoing immigration programs, and fund educational exchanges and public diplomacy programs.
In its most recent annual report, the Commission made a number of recommendations for U.S. policy toward Vietnam. First and foremost, the Commission supported the language on Vietnam found in the State Department Authorization Act (HR 1950). If the Senate does not take up the legislation this year, it is our hope that members will attach the various provisions to other appropriations bills or introduce them as free-standing pieces of legislation.
The Commission also recommended that Vietnam be designated as a country of particular concern (CPC). CPC designation is an important tool of diplomacy—allowing the Secretary of State and the President to choose from a list of possible actions. But it requires a public action—one that we believe will effectively bring human rights to the front of bilateral relations.
Hopefully, members of Congress will press the Secretary of State to designate Vietnam as a CPC this year.
Along with these immediate steps, the Commission also recommended that the U.S. government take a long-term approach to improving human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam—particularly in the areas of public diplomacy.
Let me take this moment to commend Congresswoman Lofgren and Congressman Royce for introducing H.R. 1019, the Freedom of Information in Vietnam Act of 2003. The provisions in this legislation—overcoming jamming of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America programming and taking steps to safeguard access to RFA internet sites will help provide an alternative source of information to the Vietnamese people. These measures are exactly the type of public diplomacy programs needed for the long-term enhancement of U.S. relations with Vietnam.
We also hope that U.S. foreign assistance and exchange programs will support individuals in Vietnam who advocate human rights, free speech, religious freedom, and legal reform. The U.S. has an extensive network of exchange programs in Vietnam, including the newly created Vietnam Education Foundation. The U.S. government should ensure that these programs support those Vietnamese working to advance human rights.
Madame Chairperson, let me say in conclusions, advancing free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to receive information represents not only core American values but international standards of human rights. Working to protect and promote these basic freedoms furthers the interests of both the United States and the people of Vietanm.
Thank you again Madame Chairwoman for the opportunity to address this panel. I welcome your questions.
-- VN_TuDo (VN_TuDo@yahoo.com), May 15, 2004.
2. Testimony by Doan Viet Hoat President, International Institute for Vietnam October 1, 2003
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the Vietnamese government’s attack on the media and access to information. I wish to express in particular my deepest respect for Congresswoman Lofgren and members of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam for their unfaltering efforts to protect human rights in Vietnam.
The Congressional briefing you are sponsoring today is timely and important, considering the Vietnamese government’s recent resumption of repressive measures against pro-democracy advocates, especially cyber-dissidents inside Vietnam.
In the last 15 years, the Vietnamese government has adopted a policy of openness in order to prop up Vietnam’s chaotic economy and gear itself to international standards. Yet, until this year of 2003, Vietnam has remained one of the poorest countries in the world, and it is continuing to seek assistance, especially humanitarian aid and economic investments, from the international community.
The obstacles to the development of Vietnam are deeply rooted in the lack of institutions of a civil society and a decision-making process via free media and free elections. For political expediency, the Vietnamese government detests the crucial role freedom of expression and information plays in sustainable development.
On paper, freedom of expression and information is stipulated in the Vietnamese Constitution. Article 69 of the Vietnamese Constitution stipulates that “…all citizens shall have the rights to enjoy freedoms of expression, of the press, of assembly as well as to form associations."
In 1982, as a state member of the United Nations, Vietnam ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As such, Vietnam is expected to implement the Covenant with particular adherence to Article 19: “… Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice."
In reality, Vietnam denies to its citizens the right to free expression of opinions by the media, including the press, television and radio broadcasts, the Internet, artistic activities, etc.
In recent years, with the introduction of the Internet Vietnamese people have been empowered to receive and impart information, form opinions, and communicate in ways they have never experienced before. In response, the Vietnamese government has increasingly utilized varied ways of repression of freedom of expression and information
1. Control of the Internet.
There are about 5,000 Internet cafes in Vietnam, operated under the joint control of the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications. Approximately 2,000 websites are blocked, apparently for allegedly disseminating "subversive" or "reactionary" messages.
On May 26, 2003, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications issued Decree 92/2003/QD-BBCVT to regulate the use and access of the Internet. Article 2 of the decree prohibits Internet users to send or receive «anti-government materials».
On June 27, 2002, a circular from the Ministry of Culture and Information instructs owners of Internet cafes to monitor customers’ online activities in order to prevent them from accessing “state secrets” or “reactionary” documents. (AFP; June 27, 2002)
On August 5, 2002, the Director of Post and Telecommunication asked all provincial and municipal authorities to severely punish Internet users caught spreading dissent online. (AFP; August 5, 2002)
On August 5, 2002, TTV Online, one of the most popular youth oriented website, was shut down for “violating press laws”, TTV Online posted on its forum page comments concerning Sino-Vietnamese border treaties, corruption scandals, and demands for political reform (AFP; August 7, 2002).
2. Control of the press
The Vietnamese government often circumvents the Vietnamese Constitution with the issuance of decrees and directives, mainly press laws aimed at tightening its control over dissident voices.
Over 500 newspapers and magazines, none privately-owned, are currently in circulation in Vietnam; all are subject to tight censorship.
On July 15, 2003, the Sinh Vien Viet Nam Weekly, a youth magazine for Vietnamese college students, sponsored by the French government to improve Vietnamese press professionalism, was suspended for three months for publishing “offensive illustrations”. The cover of the July 7, 2003 issue featured the two statuettes of a naked man and a woman, and last year’s May 20 issue printed a Ho Chi Minh bank note floating in a toilet bowl (Reporters Sans Frontières, July 17, 2003)
For 2003, the Ministry of Culture and Information refused to renew the press credentials of the three editors of Tuoi Tre (Vietnamese Youth) magazine, for publicizing the findings of a survey of youth idols. In the survey, U.S. President Bill Clinton scored higher than Prime Minister Phan Van Khai. The government destroyed 120,000 copies of the offending edition. (Human Right Watch 2003 Report)
In May 1999, the Ministry of Culture and Information amended press laws in order to tighten its control over domestic media. Journalists must pay fines if their reports disclose matters harmful to the government, regardless of whether the reports are true or false. (Reuters, May 20, 1999)
On June 20, 2002, Commissioner of Culture and Ideology Nguyen Khoa Diem ruled that the media were not allowed to report first-hand on corruption cases on grounds that they may “expose state secrets and create internal division.” (CPJ Appeal, July 2, 2002)
Censorship applies also to foreign reporters and imported magazines. In April 2000, Sylvaine Pasquier, reporter with the French weekly L’Express, was questioned by police and immediately expelled from Vietnam the next day when she tried to visit Dr. Nguyen Dan Que for an interview (L’Express, April 20, 2000).
Armand Dubus, Bangkok correspondent of the French newspaper Liberation was interrogated by police and ordered to leave Vietnam within 24 hours. His books and computer disks were confiscated. Apparently Mr. Dubus met dissidents and inquired into religious freedom matters (Reporters Sans Frontières, Annual Report 2001.
The July 11, 2002 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review was forbidden for sale in Vietnam because of an article on corruption scandals. The August 8, 2002 issue of the same publication was also banned because of an article on Ho Chi Minh’s life (AFP, August 8, 2002).
No foreign and domestic reporters were allowed to visit and report first-hand on the ethnic minority protests in February 2001 in the Central Highlands. They were also not allowed to enter the courthouse to cover the trials of Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, Le Chi Quang, Nguyen Khac Toan, and Pham Hong Son. These four were accused of “espionage” by circulating disagreements with the government on the Internet.
3. Banning and confiscating books and publications, videotapes, compact disks, and artistic activities.
On June 8, 2002, the Deputy Minister of Culture and Information instructed the police to confiscate and destroy publications lacking official approval. On June 16, 2002, over seven tons of books, mainly publications by internationally renowned dissidents, were burned in Ho Chi Minh City. On July 9, 2002, Hanoi police destroyed 40,780 compact disks, 810 videotapes, and 3,000 books (Human Rights Watch report 2003).
On September 18, 2002, the Ministry of Culture and Information announced that Jimmy Nguyen, a popular Vietnamese-American singer, would be banned from performing again in Vietnam after he had given, without police permission, two performances at nightclubs in Hanoi and Hai Phong. (AFP, September 18, 2002 )..
In September 2002, the government confiscated Vietnamese actor Don Duong’s passport in reprisal of his starring in two recently released American films which were banned in Vietnam, “We Were Soldiers –Once and Young” and “Green Dragon”. Ho Chi Minh City authorities banned Don Duong from traveling overseas and participating in any movie for five years (AFP September 18, 2002).
4. Censorship of radio and television broadcasts
There are no privately-owned radio and television stations and programs in Vietnam. Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese programs and the Christian radio broadcasts (in the H’mong language of the Far East broadcasting program stationed in the Philippines) are regularly jammed. Listeners to these broadcasts were harassed and, in most cases, severely punished. French language TV 5 programs are also censored. In June 2001, Nguyen Duy Tam, a RFA listener in An Giang province in the Mekong Delta, was arrested and sentenced to two-year house arrest on charges of recording RFA radio broadcast programs. His recorded tapes were confiscated (June 2001, Reporters Sans Frontières, Annual Report 2001).
According to a directive issued June 24, 2002, only top-ranking government and party officials as well as foreigners are allowed to watch international satellite TV programs in Vietnam. Vietnamese officials include Cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, governors, vice-governors, city mayors and vice-mayors. Only hotels serving international guests are permitted to install satellite television equipment (AP June 24, 2002).
5. “Legalized" Repression
Among the varied ways and forms of repression of freedom of expression and information is the tactic of showcasing the “rule of law” versus “rule by law.” Administrative measures have been, extensively and arbitrarily, applied to “legalize” repression.
The Vietnamese government systematically utilizes “administrative detention” to repress freedom of expression and information. Under Decree 31/CP, many cyber dissidents and dissident writers have been imprisoned without trial, condemned to harsh sentences by kangaroo courts, or put under house arrest. Decree 31/CP, issued April 14, 1997 by then Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, allows security agents at village levels to detain without trial, up to two years, individuals suspected of “threatening national security”. Persons subjected to administrative detention are prohibited to travel and to work, and denied access to all communication tools, including the telephone, mail, email, and personal visits.
Preventive house arrest or local supervision provided for under Decree 31/CP, applies automatically to almost all political and religious prisoners after their release from jail. The two-year period of house arrest may be extended according to the evaluation of local authorities.
The Penal Code of Vietnam, with its ambiguous wording, does not differentiate between dissidents who use violence and those who are involved in peaceful activities advocating basic rights, as stipulated in the Vietnamese Constitution. Article 73 of the Penal Code sentences, from 12 years of imprisonment to death penalty, individuals charged with “threatening national security” or “attempting to overthrow the people’s government”. Article 80 stipulates the same range of penalties to persons accused of “espionage”. Article 88 sentences from three to 20 years of imprisonment those who are charged with “propaganda activities against the Socialist Government of Vietnam”
Other laws and regulations have been passed to tighten the control of the press and the Internet, as stipulated in the Press Law and Internet Resources Administration Regulation 92/2003.
Since the judiciary branch is not independent, judges set sentences based upon the recommendations or explicit instructions of Vietnamese Communist Party’s leaders. Trials of political prisoners are always closed, and quite often without the counsel of independent attorneys. The public, the media, and even the relatives and friends of defendants are not allowed to attend the trials.
A list of 14 well-documented, high-profiled cases of cyber- dissidents, journalists, writers, artists, researchers, democracy advocates and human rights activists. They are serving lengthy (in most cases 10 years of imprisonment or more) in hard labor camps, have been, for years, placed under administrative detention without trial or house arrest, or have been subjected to constant police harassment, because they have exercised the freedoms, as enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution. They include: Prof. Nguyen Dinh Huy, a journalist and writer; jurist and cyber dissident Le Chi Quang; cyber dissident Nguyen Khac Toan; physician and cyber dissident Pham Hong Son; journalist and cyber-dissident Nguyen Vu Binh; Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, a physician, cyber-dissident, editor; Prof. Tran Van Khue (pen-name Tran Khue), a well-known expert in archaic Vietnamese literature; Pham Que Duong, a historian and retired army officer; Tran Dung Tien, a North Vietnamese Army veteran and essayist; biologist/journalist/poet Ha Si Phu; writer and poet Bui Minh Quoc, a contributing editor of the Dalat-based Langbian magazine; geologist and dissident writer Nguyen Thanh Giang; Vu Cao Quan, a veteran soldier, poet, democracy advocate; woman writer and researcher Nguyen Thi Thanh Xuan
The above cases show only the tip of the iceberg of repression. A full description of individual cases can be found in the publication “Violations of Freedom of Expression and Information in Vietnam” that I would like to submit as part of my testimony today.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The situation of human rights in Vietnam in general, and of freedom of expression and information in particular, has been deteriorating in the last few years. No independent, private-owned press exists. Vietnamese journalists, writers and artists --even if they are working in government-controlled media-- are subject to press censorship and/or disciplined if their work appears to be too independent or liberal. Foreign reporters who cover Vietnam issues are increasingly banned or face constant government obstruction; more foreign magazines are banned for circulation. Stricter measures and regulations have been issued or enforced to tighten the government control of all forms of free information and exchange of opinions, either by conventional means or over the Internet. As of this date, October 2003, all well-known dissidents have been either housed arrested or imprisoned. All dissenting voices have been muzzled. Ironically, freedom of expression and information in Vietnam are being suppressed with such unprecedented intensity, right at the time economic renovation is regaining its momentum. Never before have the Vietnamese people been deprived of freedom of expression and information on such a larger scale.
As long as the Vietnamese government maintains its present policy of repressing of freedom of expression and obstructing the free flow of information, as illustrated in the above high-profiled cases, Vietnam is unlikely to be found conforming to international standards and achieving equitable and sustainable development in the near future.
In this era of globalization, Vietnam has no other way but to comply with all the criteria set forth by its bilateral trade partners in the European Union and North America, namely the United States and Canada, as well as by multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, WTO, World Bank, I.M.F., APEC, ASEAN.
Therefore, we recommend that the United States Congress and government:
Put persistent pressure on the Vietnamese government to release all religious leaders, dissidents, democracy advocates, imprisoned or in administrative detention, as well as to abolish institutions, policies, and measures aimed at repressing freedom of religion, opinion and information;
Develop and deploy technologies as well as authorize additional resources to defeat State-directed Internet jamming and censorship; Demand the Vietnamese government to stop all forms of information censorship, including censorship of personal mail, email, censorship of the press, jamming radio broadcasts, restriction and blocking access to information on the Internet;
Attach improvements in human rights to all programs of cooperation and assistance to Vietnam;
Mandate and commission governmental and parliamentary agencies to monitor the human rights situation in Vietnam;
Demand concrete benchmarks and cooperation from the Vietnamese government for a free, fair, and two-way flow of information and exchange of cultural products, both in the Vietnamese and American languages, between the two peoples, including the Vietnamese- American community.
We strongly believe that Vietnam should embark on a comprehensive process of liberalizing society and democratizing the government in order to fully integrate into the international community and to become a civilized and developed country. This goal can only be achieved if and when all parties concerned –the government of Vietnam, the United States, the international community, and the overseas Vietnamese community-- fully commit and engage in this arduous but inevitable process.
Thank you again for inviting me for this important briefing. I am particularly gratified by this event as I was one of the first Vietnamese most affected since April 1975 by the “Vietnamese Government’s Assault on the Media and Access to Information.”
-- VN_TuDo (VN_TuDo@yahoo.com), May 15, 2004.
Testimony by Nguyen Tu Cuong Executive Director, Vietnam Helsinki Committee October 1, 2003
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on “The Vietnamese Government’s Assault on the Media and Access to Information. I wish to express in particular my gratitude and respect for Madam Chairwoman and distinguished members of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Their leadership and unflagging efforts to protect freedom of human rights in Vietnam have made a difference in the lives of thousands of Vietnamese victims of repression in and outside of Vietnam.
Recently, the Vietnamese government has stepped up the repression of pro-democracy advocates, especially cyber-dissidents in Vietnam. In response, the Vietnamese-American community has launched, in collaboration with Vietnamese democracy activists overseas, a campaign for free expression and information in Vietnam. The campaign’s first publication “Violations of Free Expression and Information in Vietnam” that I co-edited with Dr. Doan Viet Hoat documents 14 most high-profiled cases of writers, journalists, and cyber-dissidents, as well as the Vietnamese government’s repressive measures against freedom of opinion and speech, and freedom of the press. I would like to submit a copy of this publication as part of my testimony today.
In this presentation I would like to focus on the two issues that, I think, are of great concern to you and members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in recent months. They are the Vietnamese government's censorship of the Internet and the jamming of radio broadcasts by Radio Free Asia .
Censorship and jamming of the Internet
With the introduction of the Internet and Vietnam's adoption of a policy of "seeming" openness more Vietnamese people are empowered to seek, receive, and impart information. The Internet, as the most powerful engine for the free exchange of ideas and democratization, enables people to form opinions and share information, and communicate in ways that are innovative, fast, direct, and effective. Pro-democracy activists, intellectual leaders, young professionals, in and outside of Vietnam, have increasingly used the Internet to disseminate information on events affecting the Vietnamese people, as well as to conduct on-line debates on the issues of vital interest to the country, namely corruption, economic reform, democratic values. Feared by the loss of monopoly of power, the Vietnamese Communist Party and government have employed varied methods to block access to the Internet.
Firewalls, content filters, and "black boxes" have been installed to block, jam, and monitor Internet access and content. Email messages and message boards have been subjected to Internet police surveillance. "Black lists" of Internet users who frequently visit "sensitive" websites have been developed. Code words have been used to identify monitored content and "proxy" websites. State- directed websites have been created to trap unknowing Internet users by asking for their usernames and passwords.
Furthermore, the Vietnamese government has issued numerous decrees, regulations, and circulars, to deter or deny access to the Internet. The Internet at 2,000 websites are blocked, apparently for allegedly disseminating "subversive" or "reactionary" messages. Decree 92/2003/QD-BBCVT issued May 2003, regulates the use and access of the Internet, prohibiting Internet users to send or receive “anti- government materials”. In August 2002, provincial and municipal authorities were asked to severely punish Internet users caught spreading dissent online. A circular was issued June 2002 to instruct owners of Internet cafes (approximately 5,000) to monitor customers’ online activities in order to prevent them from accessing “state secrets” or “reactionary” documents. On August 5, 2002, TTV Online, one of the most popular youth oriented website, was shut down for “violating press laws”, TTV Online posted on its forum page comments concerning Sino-Vietnamese border treaties, corruption scandals, and demands for political reform. According to US Ambassador to Vietnam Raymond Burghardt, in October 2002 the Vietnamese government issued new restrictions that seek to "monitor, control, and censor normal, everyday, international, educational, diplomatic, and business-related information tools such as websites, e-commerce sites, newsletters, brochures, press releases, etc., by requiring them to undergo a lengthy and uncertain approval process."
Worse yet, more Internet and cyber-dissidents have been subjected to constant police harassment, house arrest, administrative detention without trial, or imprisonment.
* Jurist and cyber-dissident Le Chi Quang has been serving a four- year imprisonment sentence at the Ba Sao hard labor camp since November 2002 for posting articles and essays on the Internet, calling for the democratization of Vietnam.
* Cyber-dissident Nguyen Khac Toan has been serving a 12-year sentence at the Ba Sao hard labor camp since December 2002 for posting on the Internet his reports on peasants’ protests against corruption in front of local government buildings and the Vietnamese National Assembly.
* Physician and cyber-dissident Pham Hong Son has been serving a 13-year imprisonment sentence since June 2003 for posting on the Internet essays and open letters advocating democracy. He circulated on the Internet his Vietnamese translation of an article entitled “What is democracy?” which is posted on the website of the US Embassy in Vietnam. Under intense international pressure, on August 26, 2003, Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court reduced Pham Hong Son’s prison term to five years. * Journalist and cyber-dissident Nguyen Vu Binh has been detained without trial since September 2002 for advocating democracy via his essays posted on the Internet. After he was invited by U.S. Congress in July 2002 to submit a report on the human rights conditions in Vietnam, he was subjected to daily police interrogation and eventually detained on September 25, 2002.
* Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, a physician, cyber-dissident, editor of an underground newsletter Tuong Lai (The Future), was arrested en route to an Internet-café on March 17, 2003. Dr. Que has been detained without trial since then. His statement "Communique on Freedom of Information in Vietnam" issued on March 17, 2003 and widely disseminated abroad, undoubtedly led to his arrest. He had been imprisoned twice for a total of 18 years on charges of protesting Vietnam’s violations of human rights in general, and the lack of freedom of expression and information in particular.
* Biologist/journalist/poet Ha Si Phu published between 1986 and 1990 many essays questioning the legitimacy of the Vietnamese Communist Party. He served a one-year imprisonment term in 1995, and since February 2001 he has been put under house arrest. Local authorities recently extended his house arrest period in February 2003 without giving any explanations.
Jamming of Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts and persecution of RFA listeners
There are no private-owned radio and television stations and programs in Vietnam. As a private non-profit corporation founded under the provisions of the 1994 International Broadcasting Act, RFA has become a vital “substitute for indigenous free media, “covering on events occurring in and/or affecting” Vietnam. To counter its increasing popularity among Vietnamese listeners, the Vietnamese government accused RFA of “sabotaging national unity, inciting violence and disseminating lies.”
Since its inception, the Vietnamese government has systematically jammed RFA broadcasts and blocked its Internet site. Emails received from RFA's listeners inside Vietnam confirm various monitor reports that jamming activities are most active and powerful in Northern Vietnam and the Central Highlands, The jammer is reportedly a "bubble" jammer, which effectively makes clear and constant reception very difficult.
Besides jamming, the Vietnamese government has resorted to neighborhood watch, intimidation, harassment, and imprisonment to prevent people from listening to broadcasts by RFA and others such as VOA, H'mong Christian Radio. Local authorities either encourage residents to report on those who listen or make it illegal to listen to radio broadcasts. Listeners to these broadcasts were harassed and, in most cases, severely punished. According to Reporters Without Borders, in June 2001, Nguyen Duy Tam, a RFA listener in An Giang province in the Mekong Delta, was arrested and sentenced to two-year house arrest on charges of recording RFA radio broadcast programs.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The situation of freedom of expression and information in Vietnam has deteriorated in the last few years. All dissenting voices have been silenced. Vietnam has failed to meet its obligations, as a signatory to the Unites Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which ensures that citizens of Vietnam are free “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice." Vietnam has also violated Article 69 of the Vietnamese Constitution which stipulates that “…all citizens shall have the rights to enjoy freedoms of expression, of the press, of assembly as well as to form associations."
Ironically, freedom of expression and information in Vietnam are being suppressed with such a large scale and unprecedented intensity, right at the time economic renovation is regaining its momentum. Restricted access to news and information on the Internet only, in Burghardt's words, serves to "disadvantage the competitiveness of Vietnamese domestic firms in the global digital economy" In the context of the Bilateral Trade Agreement, investors will not be fully confident until Vietnam seriously implements a policy of transparency, openness, and easy access to information.
Most importantly, with its current assault on the media and access to information, as illustrated in the above high-profiled cases, Vietnam is unlikely to be found conforming to international standards, achieving sustainable development, and fully integrating into the international community of civilized and developed countries.
Therefore, we recommend that the United States Congress and government:
Exert persistent pressure on the Vietnamese government for the release of all democracy advocates, imprisoned or in administrative detention, as well as the abolishment of policies, mechanisms, and measures intended to repress freedom of expression and information, especially access to the Internet; Denounce, publicly and consistently, the Vietnamese government who restricts, censors, bans, and blocks access to information on the Internet, as well as jams radio and television broadcasts; Authorize the commitment of United States International Broadcasting resources to the development and deployment of technologies to combat State-directed censorship and jamming of the Internet and Radio Free Asia broadcasts;
Attach adherence to transparency, openness, and easy access to information to all programs of cooperation and assistance to the Vietnamese government.
Thank you again for inviting the Vietnam Helsinki Committee to testify at this important briefing.
-- VN_TuDo (VN_TuDo@yahoo.com), May 15, 2004.
Statement by Tala Dowlatshahi
Reporters Without Borders US Representative
October 1, 2003
Censorship and repression is nothing new in Vietnam, and Reporters without Borders has been monitoring freedom of expression in the country for more than 15 years. In many ways, Vietnam is chronicling the path of the Chinese government when dealing with media, the Internet and dissidents.
This is where Reporters Without Borders steps in by petitioning for the release of journalists and lobbying with human rights organizations and governments to promote press freedom under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".
The ruling Communist Party under the leadership of Prime Minister Phan Van Khai stepped up its repression of dissidents, especially journalists who use the Internet to put out their news. Almost all Vietnamese-language publications are run by the Communist Party, the army, the official news agency and town governments.
The government also controls the broadcasting media and tries to curb the growth of illegal satellite receiver dishes in the main cities. The authorities have also rejected all requests for publishing licenses from dissidents and/or independent organizations.
There are currently over 1,500,000 internet users in Vietnam.
During the year, police were ordered to monitor the 4,000 cybercafés used by nearly 600,000 people who go online. Access is blocked to websites considered "reactionary," especially those run by exiled dissidents. To date, five cyber-dissidents remain in prison.
The biggest of the five public or part publicly-owned ISPs, Vietnam Data Communications (VDC), catering to nearly a third of all Internet users, is controlled by the posts and telecommunications ministry (DGPT). The government blocks access to websites it considers politically and morally "dangerous," including foreign news sites and those of human rights organizations set up by Vietnamese abroad.
But the government also uses the Internet for propaganda purposes. The proceedings of the 9th Communist Party Congress in April 2001 were reported in several languages on the website of the official Vietnam News Agency (VNA). Internet access points were set up around the country so the population could follow the congress. Deputy culture and information minister Nguyen Khac Hai ordered police on 8 January 2002 to seize and destroy any publication not authorized by the government. The BBC reported that photocopies of printouts from the dissident news website “Dialogue” were among the casualties.
The government newspaper Thoi bao Kinh te Vietnam (Vietnam Economic Times) said on 26 June 2003 that the government planned to set up a national monitoring system to ensure that cybercafé users could not access "politically or morally dangerous" websites. The paper went on to state that the culture and information ministry had reported "very many" violations of the law in spreading subversive material and publishing state secrets.
For example, the culture and information ministry blocked the Internet website TTVNonline.com on 7 August 2003 for posting news items that violated the press law by "distorting the truth" and not having prior authorization. The ministry's information chief said the site indulged in "sensational journalism."
Five cyber-dissidents arrested in 13 months
Le Chi Quang, a 31-year-old computer teacher and law graduate, was arrested on 21 February 2002 in a Hanoi cybercafé and charged with sending "dangerous" information abroad. He was arrested after posting on the Internet a very detailed article he wrote entitled "Beware of the empire to the north," about the circumstances of the government's signing of border agreements with China in 1999. He was sentenced to four years in prison on 8 November and three years of house arrest after that for "opposing the government of the socialist republic of Vietnam" under Article 88 of the criminal code banning the distribution of anti-government material.
Cyber-dissident Nguyen Khac Toan was jailed for 12 years on 20 December 2002 by a "people's court" in Hanoi for "spying" after e- mailing material to allegedly "reactionary" Vietnamese human rights organizations abroad. His rights to a fair trial were ignored and the hearing, which lasted only a few hours, was held in secret, in violation of Article 131 of the national constitution and without even family members present.
Cyber-dissident Nguyen Vu Binh has still not been tried a year after being arrested and to say what he is accused of and what his conditions of detention are. Binh was arrested in Hanoi on 25 September last year, a month after posting on the Internet an article he wrote criticizing border agreements signed with China in 1999. The authorities did not allowed visits from his wife and two children.
On 26 August 2003, a five-year jail sentence was imposed by an appeal court on Vietnamese cyber-dissident Pham Hong Son, who has been in prison for more than a year and half. He was sentenced in June 2003 to 13 years in prison and three years of house arrest, allegedly for "spying." He alleged crime was translating an article about democracy and posting it on the Internet.
Said Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Menard, "Five years in jail for translating an article about democracy and posting it on the Internet is very heavy punishment," he said, calling on the international community to continue pressing for Pham Hong Son’s release.
Tran Khue, a 67-year-old literature teacher and founder of an anti-corruption group, was arrested on 29 December 2002 and has been held without trial for posting criticism of the government on the Internet. Several sources say he may have died, but this has not been confirmed by the authorities.
Control of mass information
In early April 2002, the Communist Party banned all documents, books, newspapers and other publications containing "bad or inaccurate" news. It said party officials and the culture and information ministry would review laws on importing and exporting cultural material and would jam reception of Vietnamese-language radio programmes put out by "foreign reactionaries" on stations such as the US-funded Radio Free Asia.
In mid-June 2002, Prime Minister Pham Van Khai banned Vietnamese from watching foreign satellite TV programmes. Access was only granted to high level government and Party officials along with provincial governors and mayors. Foreign businesses and news agencies and international hotels were also granted access to install receiving equipment. The government made clear that individuals requesting to import receiver dishes, would have to get permission from the trade ministry.
The move came soon after a wave of articles in the local press attacking some foreign TV programmes as "harmful."
On 9 July 2003, Hanoi police destroyed video and audio tapes, 3,000 books and six kilos of publications seized since March as part of a campaign against "harmful cultural material." Police in Ho Chi Minh City destroyed more than 7,000 kilos of banned publications.
Two senior dissident journalists in jail
Dissident journalist Nguyen Dinh Huy has been in jail since 17 November 1993. He was sentenced in April 1995 to 15 years in prison for trying to "overthrow the people's government" and for being a founder-member of the Movement for People's Unity and Building Democracy, which has campaigned for press freedom. Aged nearly 70, he is being held at Camp Z30A, in Dong Nai province.
His colleague, Doctor Nguyen Dan Que, editor of the underground magazine Tuong Lai (The Future) and author of many articles on press freedom, was arrested at his home in Ho Chi Minh City on 17 March 2003 and taken to the city prison. A few hours later, police returned to the house and seized his computer, mobile phone and personal papers. He has already spent nearly 20 years in prison and his health remains in serious condition.
1. Request the Vietnamese government for the immediate release of the cyber-dissidents and dissident journalists currently detained.
2. Request the reform of press and Internet laws.
3. Support the dissident web sites and publications in and outside Vietnam.
-- VN_TuDo (VN_TuDo@yahoo.com), May 15, 2004.
Testimony by Pham Ngoc Lan Member of the Rally for Democracy and Pluralism October 1, 2003
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Vietnamese citizens are currently being persecuted for communicating with the outside world at a time when the Vietnamese government is expressing interest in becoming more integrated with the global community.
According to Article 69 of the Constitution of Vietnam, “[t]he citizen shall enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, the right to be informed, and the right to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations in accordance with the provisions of the law.” However, the Vietnamese government has systematically suppressed the free flow of information and freedom of the press. There are persistent reports of imprisoned journalists, jammed radio and internet sites all over Vietnam.
I'm here today to give a testimony regarding these repeated violations by the Vietnamese government.
My presentation will have three parts:
Testimony on the firewall system the Vietnamese government is using to restrict its citizens in accessing internet sites.
Testimony on the case of Le Chi Quang, imprisoned because of his writings denouncing the human rights violations of the Vietnamese government, and because his using email to communicate with Nguyen Gia Kieng, a member of the Rally for Democracy and Pluralism (RDP) to which I myself belong.
Testimony on the case of Pham Hong Son, imprisoned because his writings on democracy (a translation from the document "What is Democracy" posted on the US State Department Web site) and because his using email to communicate with Nguyen Gia Kieng.
Before going into the details of these three cases, I would like to summarize the most prominent cases of the Vietnamese government suppressing the free flow of information and violating the freedom of the press, in the last two years.
January 8, 2002: Nguyen Khac Toan, 47, a Hanoi businessman, was arrested in a Hanoi cyber-cafe, and sentenced to twelve-years imprisonment on December 2002, under charges of "espionage".
He was accused of using email to communicate with "reactionary organizations abroad", revealing "national secrets". What he did was simply helping the peasants to write petitions reclaiming their lands, and communicating these facts to the Vietnamese media abroad.
February 21, 2002: Le Chi Quang, 32, was arrested in a Hanoi cyber- cafe, and on November 2002, was sentenced to four-years' imprisonment followed by three-years of house arrest, under charges of "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam".
Le Chi Quang wrote articles that were spread throughout the world via the Internet, including articles protesting against the detention of the dissidents and warning the government of the danger of the Chinese intentions toward Vietnam.
March 27, 2002: Pham Hong Son, 34, a medical doctor working at a pharmaceutical company, was arrested at his office in Hanoi, and on June 2003, was sentenced to thirteen-years' imprisonment followed by three-years' house arrest, under charges of "espionage". An appeal court on August 26, 2003 changed the imprisonment period to five years.
Pham Hong Son was well known for his translation into Vietnamese of the document "What is democracy" posted on the US Department of State’s web site. He is charged with "espionage" for using email to communicate with Mr Nguyen Gia Kieng, a member of the Rally for Democracy and Pluralism, an organization based in Paris. The content of these emails contains no "state secret".
September 25, 2002, Nguyen Vu Binh, 34, a former reporter of the Tap Chi Cong San, an official periodical of the Vietnamese Communist Party, was arrested in Hanoi, and is still detained without trial.
Nguyen Vu Binh became famous when he wrote in 2000 a letter to the Vietnamese government, asking for the authorization to create a new political party. He also wrote articles promoting democracy, circulated widely on the Internet.
December 28, 2002, Pham Que Duong, 71, a retired colonel of the People's Army of Vietnam, was arrested when he was in Saigon, traveling from Hanoi where he is resident. He is still detained without trial.
Pham Que Duong wrote many articles promoting democracy and denouncing the corruption in the administration. These articles are posted on several web sites. September 2001, he created a organization "to help the government and the party in fighting corruption". September 2002, he co-signed a declaration of a "Democratic Group" of 21 persons. He was the speaker of the group for the Northern part of the country.
December 29, 2002, Tran Khue, 66, a scholar in sociology, was arrested in Saigon where he lived, and is still detained without trial.
Tran Khue wrote many articles promoting democracy, posted on the Internet. He was associated with Pham Que Duong in the organization "to help the government and the party in fighting corruption" and in the "Democratic Group" of 21 persons. He was the speaker of the group for the southern part of the country.
January 20, 2003, Tran Dung Tien, 74, a retired captain of the People's Army of Vietnam, was arrested in Hanoi, and is still detained without trial.
Tran Dung Tien wrote many articles promoting democracy, posted on the Internet.
March 17, 2003, Nguyen Dan Que, 60, a medical doctor living in Saigon, was arrested in a cyber cafe, and is still detained without trial.
Nguyen Dan Que already spent 20 years in prison. He is one of the most well-known dissidents in the South. He wrote many articles promoting democracy, posted on the Internet.
September 10, 2003, three brothers and sister: Nguyen Vu Viet, 28, Nguyen Truc Cuong, 36, and Nguyen Thi Hoa, 44, were sentenced to respectively five, four and three-years' imprisonment, after more than two years of detention awaiting trial. A 2002 bill of indictment charged them with "espionage", but they were tried under a new indictment, and charged with "abusing freedom and democracy to harm the lawful interests of the state". They are nephews and niece of Father Nguyen Van Ly, who was sentenced in 2001 to thirteen-years imprisonment for charges of "undermining national unity" and two- years' imprisonment for "not obeying the house arrest order".
The two nephews of Father Ly were accused of using email and cellular phones to communicate with the "reactionary organizations" abroad. What they were doing was just giving news about their uncle, Father Ly, when he was arrested.
Testimony on the firewalls
The Vietnamese government have installed firewalls nationwide, called electronic filters, that keep Internet users from connecting to Web sites that the regimes arbitrarily consider politically, religiously or sexually offensive.
These firewalls are a serious bottleneck of the Internet traffic, slowing down considerably the flow of data, creating difficulties for the companies in Vietnam which need access to information around the world.
But what these firewalls are supposed to block?
A year ago, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh told the BBC that Vietnam uses firewalls "against pornographic sites or those which incite people or encourage violence".
I can testify today that this declaration is not true. Firewalls are also - and maybe primarily - used against political web sites posting articles that the Vietnamese government doesn't like.
I'm a member of an organization called "Rally for Democracy and Pluralism" (RDP). This organization was created in 1982 in Paris, and now has chapters in countries where the Vietnamese diaspora lives. The RDP is operating a monthly newsletter called Thong Luan (Information and Debate) since 1988, and a Web site: www.thongluan.org since 1998. I was the creator of this Web site, which is now updated regularly with articles and documents promoting democracy in Vietnam, from authors living in Vietnam as well as abroad (see attachments for details).
Our opinion can be summarized in three points:
we are fighting to establish a democratic and pluralistic system in Vietnam we are promoting national reconcilation and national concord we are promoting non-violent means in the struggle for democracy
Anyone accessing the URL www.thongluan.org can testify that
"this is not a pornographic site, and there is no article "inciting people or encouraging violence". Nonetheless, our web site is firewalled in Vietnam. This simply demonstrates that the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry doesn't admit that the firewalls are used against peaceful web sites promoting democracy, as it never admits that Vietnam has prisoners of conscience.
I asked an Internet user in Vietnam to type the URL www.thongluan.org, and send me a hardcopy of the screen. This is how it looks like:
The error message reads (the text is in English, even though it's displayed for Vietnamese users):
"Client Error: URL requested was filtered
Your request cannot be serviced due to access restrictions. Please contact your System Administrator for further details "
But the firewalls are not fully effective in forbiding access of thousands of Web sites to the Vietnamese users. There are "proxies", special web sites that help people bypass the firewalls.
One example of these proxies is the URL www.anonymizer.com. When the user typed this URL, he will get a page with an entry field where he can type the URL of the firewalled web site. Then the pages of the firewalled web will be displayed inside the page of the "proxy".
The government reacts by firewalling the "proxies", but proxies are changing everyday, their addresses are also changing, and this becomes an ever-ending struggle between the "firewallers" (the government) and the "anti-firewallers" (those who developed the proxies).
Testimony on the case of Le Chi Quang
This is a very well known case, for Le Chi Quang was the first Vietnamese to be arrested as a "cyber-dissident", as the press called this young lawyer from Hanoi.
I would like to give a testimony on the charges he was accused, directly related to our organization RDP.
Le Chi Quang has been sentenced to for four years' imprisonment for publicizing criticism of the Communist government on the internet. He was convicted of "acts of propaganda" against the state during the one-day trial in Hanoi.
He was arrested and detained in February 2002 after being accused of posting several essays on the internet which condemned the government for its land and sea border agreements with China. Other essays praised renowned fellow dissidents Nguyen Thanh Giang and Vu Cao Quan.
The indictment (document attached) stated that the ISP company called FPT informed the Ministry of Security that Le Chi Quang frequently attended places which have Internet connection situated at n° 464 Nguyen Chi Thanh street and n° 463 Thuy Khue street in Hanoi, and used e-mail to communicate with a number of reactonary individuals and organisations abroad. Clearly, this Vietnamese ISP is acting as a spy for the police.
Then, at 9:50AM, on February 21st 2002, the policemen "caught Lê Chi Quang in the act of using Internet at n° 464 Nguyen Chi Thanh street – Hanoi with the intention of sending email abroad".
The indictment stated that Le Chi Quang was charged of sending five emails to Nguyen Gia Kieng, a member of our organization RDP, from January 29 to February 2, 2002, "in which he distorted the political situation of the country, decrying the internal situation of the Party and the Government, spreading rumors that the government has dispatched security and military agents to the Central Highlands".
On November 8, 2002, Le Chi Quang was sentenced to four years' imprisonment followed by a further three years of house arrest.
This is clearly a case of a prisoner of conscience, serving a prison sentence solely for the peaceful exercise of his fundamental rights of freedom of expression.
Last week, we received from Le Chi Quang's family alarming news on his health. On September 22, 2003, Amnesty International issued a communique, "seriously concerned for the health of prisoner of conscience Le Chi Quang; his chronic kidney disease has reportedly deteriorated, and he is unable to receive the specialist medical attention that he needs." The prison authorities have reportedly allowed Le Chi Quang's family to bring him medicine, but they are only allowed to visit him once a month. An independent doctor was recently permitted to examine Le Chi Quang, and was said to be "very worried" by his condition.
Testimony on the case of Pham Hong Son
Pham Hong Son, a 35-year-old businessman and qualified medical doctor, and father of two young children, was arrested on March 2002 after translating an article from the United States embassy's website in Viet Nam, entitled "What is Democracy" and sending it to friends and senior party officials.
But the indictment (document attached), charging him with "espionage", doesn't mention this fact. Instead, it details Dr Pham Hong Son's alleged "crimes" of using email to communicate with other dissidents in Viet Nam and Vietnamese in exile, among them Mr Nguyen Gia Kieng, a member of the RDP.
Pham Hong Son is charged with espionage under article 80 of Vietnam's Penal Code because he "took the initiative" to communicate by telephone and e-mail with "political opportunists" in Vietnam and abroad. Spying is punishable by twelve to twenty years' imprisonment, a life sentence, or the death penalty.
This demonstrates how closely the Vietnamese authorities monitored citizens' private email and access to the Internet.
Pham Hong Son was sentenced to thirteen years of imprisonment followed by three years of house arrest on June 18 2003. An appeal court on August 26, 2003 changed the imprisonment period to five years.
The indictment states: "Son willingly supported the view of these mentioned political opportunists and became a follower of the action plan to take advantage of freedom and democracy to advocate pluralism and a multiparty system in order to oppose the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." The indictment further charges that Son received emails from dissidents abroad which stated that "the way to change the nature of the current regime was to remove the restrictions imposed by the Party leadership and Government, and to unify and organize the forces of democracy and pluralism." The indictment also says Son used email to "translate and send anti-Party and anti-government documents" to colleagues abroad. One of his alleged crimes was to translate and disseminate via email an article titled "What is Democracy?" which he downloaded from the website of the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam.
I can testify that the content of the emails exchanged between Dr Pham Hong Son and Mr Nguyen Gia Kieng has no "state secrets". Pham Hong Son has not advocated violence or the overthrow of the Vietnamese government, neither has he passed on state secrets. He is an advocate of democracy, peaceful political change and human rights.
The charges of "espionage" has not been dropped at the appeal court. The sentence was dropped from thirteen years of imprisonment to five years, but the charge of "espionage" remains. According to Vietnam law, "espionage" charge is punished at least of twelve years' imprisonment.
This is yet another outrageous example of Viet Nam using loosely- worded national security legislation to criminalize activities which are regarded as perfectly legal under international law and in most countries of the world.
These harsh prison sentences and vaguely worded charges of spying are perhaps designed to intimidate not only government critics, but everyone in Vietnam who uses the Internet.
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen. I look forward to taking your questions.
-- VN_TuDo (VN_TuDo@yahoo.com), May 15, 2004.
Testimony: Statement by Daniel Do-Khanh
President,Southern California Chapter of Vietnamese-American Public Affairs Committee (VPAC)
October 1, 2003
Distinguished Members of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus,
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the Vietnamese-American Public Affairs Committee (VPAC), a national grassroots organization of Vietnamese American voters.
VPAC is deeply concerned by the escalating political persecution in Vietnam. Nowhere is the trend more evident than in the government’s crackdown on peaceful expression over the last year. Independent observers often notice the wide gap between Vietnam’s potential and current state. Much of the reason lays in how the Vietnamese government restricts information and, in fact, punishes citizens for exchanging ideas.
SILENCING OF DISSENT
A top official at Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture and Information publicly declared: “Restaurant owners must guarantee the food is free from harmful substances. Therefore it’s the same with Internet café owners. They are not allowed to provide young people with poisonous substances.”
And so a young Vietnamese, Le Chi Quang, is serving a four year prison sentence, handed down in November 2002, after the operator of the Internet café he frequented reported the contents of his emails to the police. Le Chi Quang studied abroad, came home to Vietnam to earn a law degree and taught computers. He could offer so much to Vietnamese society but instead languishes in jail. He suffers from severe kidney disease and authorities are denying him the urgent medical care he needs.
Pham Hong Son, a physician by training and successful pharmaceutical executive, was sentenced in June 2003 to 13 years in prison and three years of house arrest for publishing political texts over the Internet, including the article “What is Democracy” which he obtained and translated from the US Embassy in Hanoi’s website. As a show of “leniency” authorities later reduced Pham Hong Son’s sentence to five years in prison and three years of house arrest. But why does anyone have to spend even a single day in jail for discussing democracy?
September 2003 marks a full year since former journalist Nguyen Vu Binh was arrested after distributing articles critical of government corruption and mismanagement. Prior to his arrest, Nguyen Vu Binh had repeatedly called for political change- including in written testimony for a members’ briefing organized by the two Congressional Caucuses present today. Perhaps it was the international visibility that has so far deterred the Vietnamese authorities from sentencing Nguyen Vu Binh to the kind of long prison sentence given other Internet activists.
Freelance journalist Nguyen Khac Toan was sentenced in December 2002 to 12 years in prison for reporting over the Internet popular protests against corruption. Authorities charged him with espionage. Nguyen Khac Toan’s trial lasted one day. He was allowed to see a lawyer twice, the first time being four days before the trial.
These are just a few examples. In the last year, numerous Vietnamese citizens, such as historian Pham Que Duong, professor Tran Khue, military veteran Trang Dung Tien, and doctor Nguyen Dan Que, were also jailed or placed under house arrest for peacefully expressing their views. Dr. Nguyen Dan Que not long ago was released from prison during a much publicized amnesty.
SUSTAINED INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION IS KEY
International attention is crucial, but it must be sustained. For example, this year the two highest leaders of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Venerable Thich Huyen Quang and Venerable Thich Quang Do, were released from house arrest due to international pressure. The role of the US Embassy in achieving this was pivotal. Nevertheless, it is vital that the pressure be maintained. Vietnamese authorities continue to hinder the movement and activities of the two Buddhist leaders. Recently, the Ven. Thich Quang Do traveled to Qui Nhon to meet with followers and other Buddhist leaders, but was met with constant harassment and interference by the secret police.
In other instances, international recognition is made a complete mockery of by the Vietnamese government. Last year, Thich Tri Luc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and former prisoner of conscience according to Amnesty International, fled to Cambodia where he was granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in June 2002. Soon after he was kidnapped in Cambodia by Vietnamese agents. On September 12, 2003 authorities confirmed for the first time that Thich Tri Luc was in Vietnam and would be brought to trial. He faces up to life imprisonment for alleged “anti-government activities.”
VPAC echoes the feelings of all Vietnamese Americans in wanting to see Vietnam achieve comprehensive and sustainable development. We believe the gap between Vietnam’s potential and reality can be closed through true progress, which would include enabling its citizenry to exercise a basic human right of freedom of expression.
I would like to conclude my testimony by proposing three specific actions for the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus:
Call on the US embassy to be more active in visiting with dissidents and monitoring their situation, especially prisoners of conscience who are in poor health. This simple act of humanity can bring the US and citizens of Vietnam closer, as well as provide hope to these prisoners.
Organize a Congressional delegation to visit dissidents and investigate the human rights situation. Vietnamese government officials are free to travel essentially anywhere in the US. American officials should exercise the same right. The families of most Vietnamese prisoners of conscience, for example, would warmly welcome the visit of an American Member of Congress to their home.
Continue to support the passage of the Vietnam Human Rights Act to ensure that closer relations with Vietnam is consistent with human rights promotion. The Foreign Relations Authorization Act (H.R.1950) passed by the House contains the aforementioned provisions. We ask you to encourage House colleagues to maintain this language during the Conference Committee.
-- VN_TuDo (VN_TuDo@yahoo.com), May 15, 2004.