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Press Release

Human Rights Watch

December 20, 2002

For more information contact:
New York, Brad Adams 212-216-1228
Washington, Mike Jendrzejczk 202-612-4341
London, Urmi Shah 44 20 77132788

For Immediate Release

Vietnam Escalates Crackdown on Democracy Advocates

New York - Human Rights Watch today condemned a fresh wave of arrests and trials of peaceful critics of the Vietnamese government in Hanoi and the northern port city of Hai Phong.

“The Vietnamese government continues to arrest, imprison and harass people who are simply advocating democratic reforms and government accountability,” said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. “This sort of repression has got to stop.”

On December 11, Vietnam’s donors, who have praised the country’s economic reforms, approved U.S. $2.5 billion in aid for Vietnam at a meeting convened by the World Bank.

“Vietnam’s international donors should insist that the government cease the arrests and open up any upcoming trials to the public and to international observers, including diplomats and foreign media,” said Adams.

Businessman Nguyen Khac Toan, formerly an officer with North Vietnamese forces during the war, was arrested at an Internet café in Hanoi in January. He is scheduled to be put on trial in Hanoi on December 20. He is accused of conducting propaganda against the socialist state, spreading misinformation about the government, and spying on behalf of un-named foreign countries. Convictions for spying carry sentences from 12 years’ imprisonment to the death penalty under Vietnam’s penal code. Nguyen is currently being held in B-14 (Thanh Liet) prison in Hanoi.

Democracy advocate Nguyen Vu Binh, who was arrested in September, is also expected to be tried soon, reportedly on charges of conducting propaganda against the socialist state. Formerly a journalist at the Tap Chi Cong San (Communist Review), Nguyen resigned his position in 2000 and applied for permission to form an independent political party, the Liberal Democratic Party. He was involved in the proposed start-up of an independent anti-corruption organization in 2001, which was rejected by the government.

Human Rights Watch has received reports of increased repression against dissidents in Hai Phong. On November 30, Dam Minh, 75, was detained for 11 days and interrogated about his relations with other dissidents before being released on December 10. Minh joined the North Vietnamese army in 1945 at the age of 18, and the Communist Party in 1952. He is known in Hai Phong for being outspoken on issues of corruption and human rights abuses. Minh was among a small group of people that noisily protested when they were prevented from attending the trial of dissident Li Chi Quang in October.

Another government critic in Hai Phong, Vu Cao Quan, was forced to undergo all-day interrogation sessions at police headquarters in Hai Phong from December 7-11. Although police have ended their interrogation, it is feared that the prosecutor is now examining the police report and that Vu’s arrest is imminent. Vu is a former Vietnamese Communist Party member who resigned in 1999 in protest against the party’s expulsion of prominent dissident Tran Do.

Also expected to go on trial soon is Pham Hong Son, who was arrested in March and charged with collecting and supplying documents to be used by a foreign country against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. His crime was to have translated an article titled “What is Democracy,” which he sent to his friends and senior Vietnamese officials. In addition, he had written an open letter, which was published on the Internet, protesting the fact that his house had been searched and his computer and documents confiscated.

In October, dissident Le Chi Quang, a young lawyer, was sentenced to four years in prison and three years of house arrest after a half-day closed trial in Hanoi on charges of disseminating propaganda against the state. He had been arrested at an Internet café in Hanoi in February.

Le Chi Quang’s indictment provides a telling picture of the Vietnamese government’s attitude towards dissent. It details how security police arrested Quang when he was “caught in the act of entering an Internet café…to send email overseas.” The indictment concludes that Le Chi Quang’s crimes included calling for pluralism and a multi-party system, and writing, distributing and storing documents that “distorted” the political situation and the internal affairs of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the government, causing readers to “lose faith” in the party and the government.

“Le Chi Quang’s case set an ominous precedent for the Internet age,” Adams said.

Quang, who is incarcerated in B14 prison, suffers from serious kidney dysfunction, and there is concern that he has not been allowed to receive appropriate medical treatment while in prison. He and another prisoner share a six-meter square cell, where they sleep on the dirt floor and relieve themselves in a bucket in the cell.

“All of these activists are being harassed and jailed simply for exercising their freedom of speech,” said Adams.

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