Sunday, January 30, 2005

Girl dies of bird flu, 11th victim this year

A 13-year-old girl died of bird flu in a Ho Chi Minh City hospital Saturday, the 11th victim this month to die from the disease. A man died of the same disease in Hanoi on Thursday. The girl and her mother, who died Jan. 21, had eaten an infected duck in an area where several chickens had died of the disease. Bird flu has now spread to 28 of Vietnam's 64 cities and provinces. More than 828,000 poultry have been culled since the start of the year in efforts to stop the disease. Vietnamese, Thai, UN FAO and WHO officials met in Hanoi Friday to discuss the crisis. (Agence France Presse, Jan. 29).

Vietnam plans to raise $666 million via government bonds

Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance plans to raise $666 million by issuing five and ten-year government bonds in both Vietnamese dong and US dollars from Feb. 10-Dec. 15 this year, in order to finance key infrastructure projects. $636 million of this amount is to be in dong, and the remaining $30 million in US dollars. This is the third government bond issuance since 2003, part of Vietnam's plan to raise $ 4 billion for major infrastructure projects until 2010. (Vietnam Economic Times Jan 28 p3, Young People Jan 28 p2, Vietnam & World Economics Jan 28 p1, VNS Jan 20 p15, Vietnam News Briefs, Jan. 28).

Swiss aid to vocational centers

Switzerland pledged an additional $1.05 million to upgrade vocational centers in Vietnam, in an agreement signed in Hanoi Jan. 26, between Mirjam Schreiber, Director of Swiss contact's Central Office Program, and Tran Phi Tuoc, acting Director of the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs ' International Co-operation Department. Switzerland has funded $5.2 million for Vietnam’s vocational training cetners over the last ten years, benefiting about 100,000 workers. (Youth Jan 28 p10, Labor & Society Jan 27 p2, VNS Jan 27 p2; Vietnam News Briefs Jan. 28).

Japan aid to Danang hospital

Japan provided $3.1 million to upgrade the Danang General Hospital following a Jan. 26 meeting between Japanese Ambassador to Vietnam Norio Hattori and Chairman of Danang People's Committee Hoang Tuan Anh. Japan has granted $100 million over the past ten years to upgrade three large hospitals – Cho Ray Hospital in HoChi Minh City, Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi and Central Hue Hospital in central Thua Thien Hue province. (Vietnam Financial Times Jan 28 p9, New Hanoi Jan 27 p8, Vietnam News Briefs Jan. 28).

Francophone Parliamentary meeting in Hue

The Executive Committee of the Alliance of Francophone Parliaments (APF) met in Hue this weekend (Jan. 29-30), attended by 60 delegations from around the world. The committee reviewed past work and decided the program for the APF meeting to take place in Belgium in July this year. (VNA Net Jan. 28).

Vietnam seeks WB loan for Customs sector

Vietnam is seeking a $70 million loan from the World Bank for a project to upgrade and modernize its customs sector. The project is designed to standardize Vietnam’s customs performance, chiefly by replacing paper procedures with e-customs declaration and clearance, according to Le Manh Hung, general director of the General Department of Customs. The new procedure would help businesses save more than half the time necessary for paper procedures. The department forecasts the total number of declarations will be more than 3.5 milloin in 2006, three times more than 2003. (VNS, VDC News Jan 27, Vietnam & World Economy Jan 26 p2, Vietnam News Briefs, Jan. 28).

Thursday, January 27, 2005

More HIV cases reported

Vietnam has so far this month detected more than 1,300 HIV carriers, raising the total to 90,600, the country's General Statistics Office said Wednesday. Out of these cases 14,500 have developed into AIDS, including over 8,400 fatalities. Some 62 percent of HIV carriers are in the age bracket of 20-29, and most of the transmissions occur from drug use. The country has launched various public awareness campaigns, urging youths to adopt the "ABC" approach to sex (Abstinence, Being faithful and Condom use). (Xinhua Jan. 26).

Party holds 11th plenary session

The Vietnamese Communist Party held the 11th plenary session of its Ninth Congress Jan. 17-25, in which the party members heard a review of the last 20 years, a draft political report, plans for economic development and party organizational work. Party Secretary Nong Duc Manh opened the session, urging increased efforts to fight corruption and accelerate economic reforms. The Tenth Party Congress is slated for mid-2006. (Young People Jan 18 p3, The People Jan 18 p1, Youth Jan 18 p1, People's Army Jan 18 p1, Vietnam Economic Times Jan 18 p1, Vietnam News Briefs Jan. 18; VNA, Nhan Dan Jan.18.)

Three Montagnards sentenced, refugee pact signed

Two ethnic minority highlanders received sentences of 10 years and another 11 years for their alleged anti-government activities at the conclusion of a trial held in a Central Highlands court on Wednesday (Jan. 25). Convicted were Ksor Vung, 36, Ksor Thup, 53, and Hlun, 37. They were accused of "undermining national unity" and receiving direct instructions from the exile FULRO group to "foment the establishment of a Dega state, led by Kok Ksor, beat Kinh majority people, hold demonstrations and instigate people to flee to Cambodia." (Agence France Presse Jan. 26, Associated Press, International Herald Tribune Jan. 27, Deutsche Presse-Agentur Jan. 26).

On Tuesday (Jan. 25) a pact was signed between Vietnam, Cambodia and the UNHCR on the repatriation or resettlement of approximately 700 Montagnard asylum seekers in Cambodia, after a day and a half of talks in Hanoi. Under the agreement some will be allowed to resettle abroad and others will be sent back, either voluntarily or by force. Cambodian officials have said all the Montagnards will have to leave within a month. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur Jan. 25; Agence France Presse Jan. 24, U.N. News Centre Jan. 27; see also Human Rights Watch report, Jan. 10.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Do Nam Hai protests harassment

The following is a translated appeal from Do Nam Hai, pen name Phuong Nam, protesting police harassment for his dissent. I posted here earlier this month an appeal he wrote Dec. 10 on the same matter.


Ho Chi Minh City, January 19, 2005

TO: Commanding Staff of Secret Police, Phu Nhuan District
Concerned friends

My name is Do Nam Hai, born in 1959 in Hanoi, residing at 441 Nguyen Kiem, F9, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City.

I am writing this letter to present to the Commanding Staff of the Police of Phu Nhuan District the following incident. On the evening of 1/18/2005, I received a summons by Colonel Tran Thanh Ta, Vice Commander of Police of Phu Nhuan District, signed on the same day. I was requested to present myself at exactly 8:00 AM 1/19/2005 to the Phu Nhuan Police station at 181 Hoang Van Thu Street to "scrutinize the content of my computer, which the police have temporarily confiscated." (Copy attached). Regretfully, I could not come as requested because:

1) The timing of the scrutinization conflicted with the time that I had to work at my agency.

2) On the afternoon of 12/4/2004, after having temporarily taken control of the CPU of my computer, a representative of the investigating agency-the Police, verbally told me at the police station that "When we have erased all information in there (CPU), we will return it to you."

Therefore I suggest that if the Police have finished that task, then please return it to me at my home at the above address. In the case that the Police realizes that would not be a solution, then it could just do what ever it sees fit. In reality, the CPU has already been under the police control temporarily for 45 days. Now, if I could get it back, I would not have been able to use it myself.

3) In the afternoon of 12/3/2004, again the representative of the investigating agency--The Police Department--telephoned me and asked me to see him at a restaurant at 168 Hoang Van Thu Street, Phu Nhuan (approximately 100 meters from the Phu Nhuan Police Station). At 5 PM, I came to the rendezvous place and I thought naively that it was just a "get together" to "exchange thoughts on democracy." (!) In reality, as described in the Open Letter dated 12/10/2004, I was immediately taken to the Police Station and again I was interrogated for 24 hours. I am willing to take responsibility in front of the law, if I am actually guilty of some violation. But, I object to illegitimate and under handed actions of representatives of a public law enforcement agency.

These are the reasons for me to write this letter. I sincerely thank you for all of your concerns.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

17 sentenced to death in drug trial

A Ho Chi Minh City court sentenced 17 people to death and ten to life in prison Monday (Jan. 24), at the conclusion of Vietnam's largest ever heroin trafficking trial. Two others received lesser sentences of 4 and 20 years. Among those sentenced to death was Ly Ngoc Hai, a court officer in the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court, and deputy to ringleader Nguyen Van Hai. Vietnam has handed down 25 death penalties and executed five prisoners so far this year, according to confirmed statistics from state-run media. It executed 63 people last year, more than half of them convicted of drug crimes. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Jan. 24).

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Diplomatic ties with Vatican possible

Vietnam seems to be more open than before toward establishing diplomatic ties with the Holy See, according to Vatican sources. The president of Italy’s lower house of parliament, Pier Ferdinando Casini, visited Vietnam recently and was told by President Tran Duc Luong that establishing such relations with the Holy See is only a matter of time. On the other hand, Cardinal Jean Baptiste Phan Minh Man, Archbishop of HCM City, cautioned against too much optimism. He also noted that while there have been increasing signs of religious freedom in Vietnam in recent years, religious freedom in Vietnam is “still limited and permitted” rather than a basic human right. (AsiaNews, Jan. 21).

Polish PM visits Vietnam

Poland's Prime Minister Marek Belka promised (Jan. 18) to give Vietnam credit loans up to $200 million for ship building and power plant projects. While in Vietnam he met with Prime Minister Pham Van Khai, President Tran Duc Luong and other top officials. Two bilateral agreements were signed, on educational and agricultural cooperation. Bilateral rated between Vietnam and Poland last year amounted to $230 million, including $187 million in Vietnamese exports. There are around 20,000 Vietnamese workers in Poland. (Tuoi Tre, Nhan Dan, Saigon Giai Phong, Lao Dong Jan. 18; Vietnam News Briefs Jan. 18).

Direct flight to India planned

Vietnam plans to open a direct flight to India, said Pham Vu Hien, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam on Jan. 16. The main problem now is a shortage of Vietnamese aircraft. Hien made these comments at a conference in New Delhi on tourism and aviation, organized by the India Chamber of Commerce and Industry. About 17,000 visas for Vietnam are issued annually, of which between 7,000 and 10,000 are tourists. (Laborer, Business Line, VNA, Jan. 16; Vietnam News Brifs, Jan. 18).

Friday, January 21, 2005

UNDP official praises Vietnam's economic reforms

Vietnam's economic reforms were praised by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) resident representative Jurlan Ryan at a Hanoi roundtable Jan. 12. He said there have been profound economic improvements in Vietnam since the Sixth Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party, held in Dec. 1986. Also speaking at the roundtable was Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who stated that Vietnam's GDP has doubled over the last ten years and that 25 million Vietnamese have been lifted out of poverty. (VNA Jan. 13).

Monday, January 17, 2005

RSF protests crackdown against online press

Paris-based Reporters san Frontieres (Reporters without Borders) reported Jan. 12 on Vietnam's crackdown against the online press in recent weeks, which it says is led by Politburo member Nguyen Khoa Diem, head of the Communist Party central committee's ideology and culture commission. It noted that in "just three weeks, three publications - Tuoi Tre, and - have been banned or brought to book." It also protested the legal action taken Jan. 5 against Tuoi Tre journalist Nguyen Thi Lan Anh, who was charged "with posting two briefs quoting a note from the Health Minister classified as a 'state secret'. In it the minister called for an investigation into the abnormally high prices set by pharmaceutical business Zuellig Pharma VN."

It noted an order issued Nov. 8 of last year by PM Pham Van Khai against the online press agency, run by the state-owned Internet provider FTP - a state-owned company, after it had published articles along with reader reaction in Oct. 2004, reporting the government purchase of 78 Mercedes for the Europe-Asia (ASEM) conference. On Jan. 10, the governement closed down the (Vietnam News) website, apparently because of letters from readers it had published. Despite the government's announced campaigns against corruption, it seems that reporting on this subject can still be risky business for reporters with state-sponsored news agencies in Vietnam. (Reporters Without Borders press release Jan. 12).

China kills 9 Vietnamese fishermen in disputed zone

China claims the nine Vietnamese fishermen border guards killed recently actually had fired on Chinese fishing boats first. The incident took place Jan. 8 in a disputed zone of the Gulf of Tonkin, about 125 miles south of Hanoi. China claims the three Vietnamese fishing boats had opened fire on Chinese fishing boats seeking to rob them. Vietnam has called on China to strictly punish the border guards. Both sides have pledged "not to take extreme action or make use of force" on fisheries-related issues. (Agence France Presse, Jan. 15).

Spokesman denounces HRW report

A Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokesman denounced Human Rights Watch for its critical coverage of Vietnam in its annual report on worldwide human rights. According to the report, human rights conditions deteriorated in Vietnam over the last year, with increasing harassment and imprisonment of dissidents, crackdowns on unauthorized religious organizations and strict controls over internet usage. The spokesman claimed that Vietnamese enjoy freedom of speech, religious belief and expression; that no one is imprisoned for their religious beliefs, only for violating the law; and are free to use the internet, except that "any information that aims to cause insecurity, public disorder, racial discrimination, terrorism, moral degeneration and legal violations are banned in Vietnam." It has become customary for the Vietnamese foreign ministry to denounce any report critical of its human rights practices, even when contained within a worldwide report such as this one. (People's Police, Vietnam News Briefs, Jan 17; for the text of the HRW report on Vietnam click here).

Bird flu spreads north

Bird flu has spread to northern Vietnam, reaching Hanoi for the first time since it made a comeback last month. Four people have already died from the disease this year, which can spread by contact from sick birds to humans. Since the beginning of 2005, 167,000 birds have died or been culled in 13 provinces and cities in Vietnam. Last year the disease killed 17% of the poultry population, and infected 31 people, of which 20 died from the disease. The PM has instructed all local and provincial offices, along with relevant ministries, to take drastic measures to contain the disease. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Jan. 15; Xinhua, Jan. 15; VNA Jan. 15).

Update: PM Pham Van Khai issued a directive temporarily banning the import of all poultry into Vietnam, stating that any imported poultry would be seized and destroyed. Importers will not be compensated and will have to pay for the destruction of the goods. Poultry comes into Vietnam mainly from China, up to eight tons of chickens and an undetermined quantity of eggs have been smuggled into Vietnam from China every day in recent weeks ahead of Tet. World Health Organization officials fear the disease could mutate into an uncontrollable form, causing millions of deaths in Asia. (Reuters, Jan. 18).

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Tet amnesty for over 8,000 prisoners

Vietnam will grant amnesty to 8.277 prisoners to mark the lunar new year, reported Vietnam's Tien Phong newpaper. Only those with "good re-education records" will be considered for amnesty, it added. The decision was made by the National Amnesty Consulting Council, subject to approval by President Tran Duc Luong. The government traditionally grants amnesty to certain prisoners on special occasions, such as Tet, Vietnam National Day (Sept. 2) and Ho Chi Minh's birthday. (Agence France Presse, Jan. 13).

Thich Nhat Hanh returns to Vietnam

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday with nearly 200 followers, about half of them monks and nuns, to begin a three-month visit, lasting until April 14. He will visit Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, and various temples around the country, in a visit facilitated by the state-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church. Nhat Hanh, age 82, has lived abroad since 1967 as a result of his protests against the war. He leads the Plum Village Meditation center in southwest France, and has written numerous books and taught at retreats in recent years. In the past he was closely associated with dissident monks who lead the now banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, such as Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do. Several of his previously banned books are now allowed to be circulated in Vietnam. (Vietnam News Agency, Jan. 12; Agence France Presse Jan. 11, North County Times Jan. 13, Plum Village Meditation center).

New evidence of Montagnard mistreatment reported

Human Rights Watch appealed to Cambodia not to turn away Montagnard Christians fleeing from the central highlands of Vietnam, citing "alarming new reports of mass arrests, torture and increasing persecution" for their religious beliefs, in a 25-page report released Monday. It said new testimony "establishes the widespread and continued use of torture against activists, religious leaders and incividuals who have been voluntarily returned from Cambodia." Hundreds of Montagnard Christians in the highlands were rounded up in the weeks leading up to Christmas; in "Gia Lai province alone -- one of five provinces in the Central Highlands -- police arrested 129 people between December 12 and 24." The current whereabouts of most of the detainees are unknown.

At a press conference the same day, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Dung denied the allegations of the HRW report, and claimed Christmas was celebrated peacefully in the highlands. The Army newspaper Quan Doi Nhan Dan denounced HRW's "perilous political scheme disguised under the pretext of 'protecting human rights'," and claimed that "no citizens have been arrested for religious reasons and that only those who break the law and foment social unrest to destroy the peaceful life and normal religious practices of local people, and those who attempt to threaten Viet Nam's national security and territorial integrity will be punished." (Human Rights Watch, press release and report, Jan. 10; Vietnam News Agency, Jan. 10, 12).

Saturday, January 08, 2005

FEBC broadcasts to Vietnam

The Christian ministry, Far East Broadcasting Company has been airing Christian programming to Vietnam for 50 years now, reports The Christian Post. It broadcasts to Vietnam in 23 different languages, much of the broadcasting aimed at ethnic highland groups. In a letter to the FEBC a Hmong Christian listener in Vietnam said, "The local lords do not allow us to worship [God] and want us to go back to evil spirit worship. Please pray their hearts will be changed and that believers here will be able to worship freely." (The Christian Post, Dec. 30).

Plain clothes proposed for defendants

A resolution was introduced to Vietnam’s National Assembly at its 24th session in Hanoi Dec. 22, to allow defendants to wear normal clothes at trials in criminal courts. This will “guarantee human rights,” said Le Quang Binh, head of the NA Standing Committee’s Dept. fo People’s Aspirations. “When a defendant appears in court wearing prison uniforms and is photographed, his photos could be in the newspaers. This would cause a real problem if the defendant is then sentenced to probation or released,” added Vu Duc Khiem, director of the NA Committee of Law. Presently this situation is inconsistent: while detainees wear prison clothes, those who can afford bail – many of them senior officials – appear in normal clothes. The consensus among committee members was that all defendants, except those already serving prison sentences, should be allowed to wear normal clothes in criminal court. ( Dec. 23, Labor Dec. 23, Vietnam News Briefs Dec. 23). (Note: at this writing I do not know that the resolution actually passed, but it is likely to have been approved.)

Vietnam aims for population of 88 million by 2010

Vietnam aims for its population to increase from its present 82.1 million to no more than 88 million by 2010, with each couple having two children at most, Vietnam News Agency reported Dec. 27. The plan is to reduce the population growth rate to 1.1% and the infant mortality rate to 25 per 1,000 births; and to increase the number of people using modern birth control methods to 70%. Vietnam’s population grew by 1.47% in 2003, and 1.44% in 2004. At this rate Vietnam will have 95 million people in 2015. (Xinhua, Dec. 27, Voice if Vietnam, Dec. 23, Tuoi Tre Dec. 22, Vietnam News Briefs Dec. 23).

Danang forests threatened by dangerous bindweed

The United Nations Development Program in Vietnam reports that some 1,000 hectares of special use forest in Danang province “are severely overgrown by an unidentified invasive liana species.” The invading plants have been identified as two types of bindweed – Merremia boisiana and Ipomona eberhardtii. They have spread rapidly across pine and acacia forests since 1999, creating a dense canopy that kills trees and plants below because they are starved of sunlight; and increasing the risk of forest fires because of their large, thick leaves. (China Daily Dec. 23).

Correction: The above should read Quang Nam-Da Nang province, not Danang province.

Culture ministry defends restrictions on wartime songs

An official with Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture denied that his ministry has banned songs composed by southern Vietnamese musicians before 1975. “The ministry does not ban any specific songs written by southern musicians in the pre-1975 era as claimed by singer Anh Tuyet, but requires singers to ask for official permit to perform unchecked songs,” said Le Nam, head of the ministry’s music management department. He said that more than 400 songs composed before 1975 have been approved for public use, including 67 songs approved in November. However, he admitted the government still does not allow the introduction of biographies and careers of musicians and song composers living in south Vietnam before 1975. Works by those living abroad whose political stance is not clear are also banned. Approximately 30,000 songs composed by hundreds of southern Vietnamese songwriters before 1975 mostly wait for government approval before they can be heard again in Vietnam. Anh Tuyet, a popular singer in Vietnam, criticized what she described as wartime prejudice by Vietnam’s cultural authorities and urged that these restrictions be lifted, in an interview with Lao Dong newspaper. (News Dec. 20, Culture Dec. 14-16, Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 24).

Traffic accidents claim over 12,000 lives in 2004

Cities and provinces in Vietnam report around 18,000 traffic accidents in 2004, killing 12,162 people and injuring 16,000 others. Although the number of traffic accidents and injuries have been reduced in 2004 by 15.4% and 29.4% respectively, the number of fatalities has risen by 298 (2.5%). Over 95% are road accidents, the remaining being railway and waterway accidents. (HCM City Police Dec. 28, Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 28).

62,000 addicts treated for drug use in 2004

Detoxification centers have treated 62,000 drug users in 2004, according to the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs. The rate of relapse has been reduced from 90-100% to 75-80%. Vietnam lists 131,143 drug addicts, although the actual figure is believed to be 150,000 or more. The ministry says that with international aid Vietnam has eradicated 97% of poppy-growing areas. (The Law Dec. 28, Tuoi Tre Dec. 27, Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 28).

AI Urgent action for detained Christian

Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action notice for Le Thi Hong Lien, a 21-year-old Vietnamese teacher at a Mennonite church who is suffering from severe mental illness in the prison infirmary at Chi Hoa Prison, Ho Chi Minh City. AI considers Lien a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for the non-violent exercise of her beliefs. She has participated along with other Christians in demonstrations protesting the government's religious policy. She was arrested last June along with other Mennnonite Christians and on November 12 was sentenced to 12 months in prison on charges of "resisting a person performing official duty".

AI says her condition is deteroriating as a result of severe beatings and having her hands and feet tied to her prison bed. (Amnesty International Urgent Action notice, AI Index: ASA 41/001/2005, January 7).

Monday, January 03, 2005

Two state employees tried for dissent

Two state employees were tried in Hanoi Dec. 29, on the charge that they "wrote and sent many documents and petitions to State agencies, distorting the Party and Government's economic policy, and speaking ill of Party and State leaders and central agencies." The court sentenced Tran Van Luong, 65, to 21 months in prison, and Ms. Nguyen Thi Minh Hoan, 57, to 8 months in prison for "abuse of the right to freedom and democracy by violating the State's interests and the legitimate rights and interests of organisations and citizens and by counterfeiting an organisational seal."

They were arrested in June when police seized more than 10 kg. of "ill-willed documents". At the time of their arrest Luong was Director of the Workshop for Technical Experiment of Physics at the Applied Physics Centre of the Viet Nam Institute of Science and Technology, and Nguyen Thi Minh Hoan was the former Vice Director of the Workshop. (Vietnam News Agency, Dec. 30; Deutsche Presse-Agentur Dec. 29).

Sixteen people to face trial for golf course protest

Sixteen people are to be tried for leading a violent protest against a proposed golf course outside Hanoi, a local official said Dec. 27. "These people will be prosecuted under two different charges, distrubing public order and opposing officials on duty,"
said Ngo Van Hai, head of the Dong Anh district People's procuracy. Some 400 people had been removed from the site after a clash with around 300 police at a ground-breaking ceremony for the 18-hole course. Petrol bombs were allegedly thrown, and more than 20 policieman and ten security guards were injured. The protesters could be sentenced to anything between two and ten years imprisonment under Vietnamese law. Local residents of Dong Anh, located about 30 km. from central Hanoi, claim they have not been properly compensated for their removal from their homes. Inadequate compensation for forced relocation has become a growing concern of residents in the area around Hanoi. Another protest took place in November at a proposed industrial site 50 km. south of Hanoi, when 22 people were arrested in protests over the low compensation. (Deutsche Press-Agentur, Dec. 27).

85% of prostitutes in camps have STDs

Of the 14,000 sex workers held in Vietnam rehabilitation camps, around 85 percent are infected with sexually transmitted diseases said a MOLISA* official on Dec. 24. Between 20 and 25 percent are HIV positive; other common diseases in the camps include gonorrhea and syphillis. Under Vietnamese law women convicted of prostitution are sent to these camps, but most return to their profession after being released. Vietnam passed a regulation earlier this month banning people under age 18 from working in twelve different types of work environments, including karaoke bars and massage parlors. (Deutsche Press-Agentur Dec. 24). *MOLISA = Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

U.S. asked to remove Vietnam from its religious concern list

The United States must exclude Vietnam from its "countries of particular concern" in its recent annual report on religious freedom around the world, said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Dzung Dec. 23. Although Vietnam was listed in this regard, the U.S. granted a 90-day extension to Vietnam while it decides whether to proceed with sanctions. (Tuoi Tre, Dec. 24, Hanoi Moi, Dec. 24, VNS Dec. 24, Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 24; the U.S. State Department report on worldwide religious freedom released last September can be found at its website; click here for its section on Vietnam).

World Bank aids water supply system

The World Bank approved a $12 million concessional credit to Vietnam Dec. 22, which will help the country pipe water to around one million residents in the towns and cities. The credit will support Vietnam's Urban Water Supply Development project, which aims to improve water and household sanitation services in district towns and large urban centers. The first phase will benefit 15 district towns in three provinces and an estimated 145,000 residents. The second phase includes up to 120 towns in 24 provinces, benefitting another 740,000 people. (World Bank press release, Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 22).

New laws on national security, publishing and competition

Vietnam's Presidential Office introduced three laws Dec. 21, on national security, publishing and competition, all of which will go into effect by July 2005. They had been approved by the National Assembly earlier in the month. (Vietnam News, Dec. 22, Vietnam Newspaper Highlights/VNA Dec. 22).

Six death penalities in drugs trial

Six death penalties, three life sentences and jail terms of between 17 and 20 years were handed down to 16 drug smugglers at the end of a three day trial in Hanoi, Dec. 23. The gang was convicted of smuggling 24.8 kilograms of heroin, 4.8 kilograms of opium, and 400 amphetamine tablets into Vietnam from Laos between 2000 and Jan. 2004. Heroin is still widely available in Vietnam despite anti-drug campaigns. Deutsche Press-Agentur reports that, "Based on reports appearing in the state-run press, Vietnam has executed at least 63 people since the beginning of 2004." Over half of these are executed for drug offenses. Under Vietnamese law the death penalty can be applied in cases involving more than 100 grams of heorin, although it is normally applied to cases of more than 600 grams. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Dec. 23).

World coffee crisis hurts farmers

Despite being ranked as the number two exporter of coffee (behind Brazil) and number one exporter of robusta coffee, Vietnam's coffee growers struggle to stay afloat amidst a world coffee crisis in which world market prices are lower than production costs. The 2003-2004 crop is the fifth successive year which has seen the price of coffee plummet and there are no immediate signs of improving, according to the Vietnam Coffee and Cacao Association. Vietnam exported some 870,000 tons of coffee beans this year, an increase of 25.5% over last year's crop, which earned about $570 million. Since the early 1990s, Vietnam has promoted coffee production as a means of developing the central highlands. (Vietnam Investment Review, Dec. 6-12, Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 22).

Rights groups protest Do Nam Hai's treatment

Two press freedom groups have asked the Vietnamese government to stop harassing pro-democracy writer Do Nam Hai, pen name Phuong Nam. Describing Vietnam's treatment of dissidents as "appalling", Committee to Protect Journalists director Ann Cooper urged Vietnamese authorities to allow him the right to freely express his opinions. The other group, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, hailed Hai's courage and protested his harassment. Hai, a 44-year-old banker living in HCM City, had written some articles while living abroad in the late 1990s criticizing corruption and the lack of democracy in Vietnam. In an open appeal to the authorities, dated Dec. 10, 2004 (text below), Hai protested his mistreatment, which over the last five months has included having been detained twice, interrogated repeatedly, and having his computer confiscated. He vowed to continue speaking for a more democratic and less corrupt society in the country. (Deutsche Press-Agentur, Dec. 24; Reporters Without Borders, Dec. 21; Committee to Protect Journalists, Dec. 23.

Do Nam Hai's appeal

Below is the text of an appeal by Do Nam Hai, pen name Phuong Nam, against corruption and repression in Vietnam, as well as the treatment he has received from authorities for publicly protesting these evils:


Ho Chi Minh City December 10, 2004


Respectfully addressed to:
- The Congress and the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
- The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam
- Local and international news organizations
- Those concerned

My name: Do Nam Hai, born in 1959 in Hanoi
Currently residing at:
441 Nguyen Kiem street - Precinct 9,
District Phu Nhuan, Ho Chi Minh city
Profession: Banking

I write this open letter to all above authorities and to all concerned to discuss some issues below:

1. About the articles I wrote during my stay in Australia.
Under the pen name Phuong Nam, I have written five articles:

* Viet Nam my country (June 2000)
* Viet Nam and Reform (April 2001)
* Thoughts about reassessment (June 2001)
* On chairman Ho Chi Minh (July 2001)
* More thoughts about reassessment (August 2001)

[These articles have been posted on some Web pages such as: Dan Chan Viet: and Mang Y kien:]

The subjects I mentioned in these five articles are those commonly discussed by the news media, educational institutions, and universities -- namely Marxist-Leninist philosophy, Ho Chi Minh thought, the causes of the two Indochina wars (1945-1975), the creation and the downfall of the socialist system (1917-1991), the reform and the backwardness of Viet Nam at the present time compared with other countries in the region and the world. At the same time, I suggest organizing a referendum in Viet Nam (discussed in detail in the article "Vietnam my country", chapter 4) in order to open the road for the people to solve the problem of backwardness. At the beginning of 2002, I returned to Viet Nam and in October 2004, I was interviewed by Free Asia Radio station (RFA) on the viewpoints in these five articles.

2. My current difficulties:

On the afternoon of August 6, 2004, while I was working at the bank, a group of police officers came and invited me into their car to go to a "work session" with them at a villa on 310 Truong Chinh St, precinct 13, Tan Binh district, Ho Chi Minh city. I was detained for two days (from 4 p.m. on August 6, 2004 through 6 p.m. on August 8, 2004), to "answer to a few things concerning national security", according to the summoning letter. Four months later, I was again detained for 24 hours by the police (from 5 p.m. on Dec. 4, 2004) at the police office of Phu Nhuan district at 181 Hoang Van Thu St. precinct 8. Beside that over the last four months I have been interrogated a dozen times by the police, sometime at a restaurant, other times at a chamber of a hotel; or in a covered up ambulance by the side of a Nhieu Loc canal, Tan Binh district. My personal computer was confiscated on Dec. 4, 2004 by Phu Nhuan district police. The police promised verbally that: "you will have it back when we finish deleting all data in it."

For now, I have nothing to work with at my home.

In all the working sessions with police I told them (from the rank of junior officers to colonels): "That is correct. I have written all those articles. I was pushed to write and publish them on the Internet because of my love for my country. I want to contribute a little for the cause of democracy in Viet Nam. Presently it is clear that our country has no democracy. The so-called socialist democracy in Viet Nam now is in fact a fake democracy based on deception, democracy for a minority elite within the leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party. If it existed in the society is only a small piece of the democracy."

It is easy to prove the statement above, and it has been done by many democracy advocates before me. The most valid proof is my being here answering your questions against my will, to open all my mail-boxes, open the electronic forum Nha Viet Nam in which I have been enrolled since June, 2003. You labeled my articles and all the materials I have brought along as counter-revolutionary, against the party and the government. But I have a different opinion, I believe they are materials for democracy, and they were posted in their entirety on the Internet. I hope in the future, they will be read by more Vietnamese, especially those living inside the country. I assert that I have done much toward that in the past. Frankly, I do not blame you (the police). What you have done is the assignment given to you. What is needed to blame is the one-party dictatorship legalized in Article 4 of the Constitution of Viet Nam. It was, is and will be in itself the problem of all problems, the cause of all causes creating much suffering and backwardness to bring shame to this country and to its people.

My relationship with the people in Viet Nam and overseas during the last four years (June 2000 to December 2004) has been purely on the basis of exchanging democratic writings. I am confident in my capacity to engage into dialogue with anyone regardless of who they are, whatever their past or current status. If they are right, I support them. If they are wrong, I then denounce them accordingly. I neither collaborate with nor instigate anyone to rebel or to overthrow any authority; nor to plant explosives or mines anywhere. Those who dialogued with me had the same philosophy. They always respected me and understood well my point of view through my writing, that I support only democratic activities aimed to promote the right changes for the people. You have read all my correspondence and responses (either by force or by unauthorized interception); you have read the opinions that I exchanged with others over the Nha Viet Nam forum. You should have been able to confirm what I said above.

I believe that the Vietnamese want to find a reasonable solution so that they could integrate into the contemporary world. The most important step toward this destination is to identify and then successfully resolve all the causes of those countless painful tragedies, the shameful backwardness of our country as mentioned above. In the meantime, let us avoid the wrongful practice of accusing those who work for a pluralistic society and multiparty political system of conspiring with enemies inside and outside of Viet Nam to topple the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). I believe that the risk of losing control to opposition political powers would exert important and necessary pressure on the VCP for them to behave better under the scrutiny of the history and of the people. It will also impose compelling influence against the accelerating and comprehensive deterioration of the governing elites of the VCP, from the central down to the local levels of government, and other organizations in Viet Nam.

In another word, it's the golden key to help the VCP straighten up the rank and file so that they can remove the rhetoric of "protecting the party, our governing system" through "dictatorship of the proletariat" of our nation's political, economic, social systems during the last half century.

The ball is now in the court of those who have the control of the Politburo and the Central Committee Secretariat of the VCP. We are not concerned with the lack of the right plans to build and to develop; but we are concerned that a wrong path was picked for our people. The people picked the wrong path in the past, now the people must have the courage to overcome themselves to re-evaluate and together we will pick a better, brighter and more humanistic path for our own people. That was the way it should have been. Don't wait until the date that when -- with the roaring anger of the people -- what happened in Romania in December 1989 would be repeated again; it was concluded with the deserved yet shameful deaths of the dictator Ceausescu and his wife (they were executed). It would be too late then. I am a Vietnamese with a strong aspiration for democracy and I would never want my country to evolve into such a chaotic drama.

3) Observation and Recommendation:

a) Observations:

One of the prominent features of contemporary history is the timing for a total collapse of all dictatorships, the one-party form of government all over the world. Within the last 20 years or so, mankind witnessed the death of many such regimes as in South Korea, Chile, Philippines, Indonesia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq as well as in Soviet Union and East European socialist countries. These nations might have gone through and will be facing various challenges and obstacles but they eventually will achieve the transformation from a backward enslaved society to a progressive civil one; this is also the inevitable trend for the present day. No one and no power, regardless how conservative and barbarous it might be, could prevent this inevitable trend. Don't be too contentious, those who placed the initial obstacles faced by the above-mentioned nations to serve as a warning for the courageous Vietnamese. It's a crime to carry out such an act. Sooner or later, a criminal act will be punished.

As long as Vietnam is still governed by a dictatorial, one-party government, one can surely predict that its people will suffer from injustice, poverty, and backwardness

Our nation emerged from the war 30 years ago, but our people's path is still winding and out-of-focus, just like the way of a person with serious eyesight problem but without eyeglasses or a cane. The regime is also totally impotent confronting the national peril of corruption or stopping the grave moral decline of the society. Even so, slogans for those efforts are abundant. The naive belief of many Vietnamese in the so-called policy of "building a market economy based on socialist fundamentals" (never existed in any bible of Marxism-Leninism) is the same as the pitiful belief of that little boy in the countryside in the poetry Hoang Cam's.

The boy was religiously looking for the mythical "dieu-bong" leaf so he could marry that beautiful village girl, as she had demanded; he did not realize that she had already and quietly become married. There are so many such people in the Vietnamese society, which remains as poor as ever, who have become launching pads for a few persons like the father and son of Mai Van Dau, who are always rich.

I don't know if the police officers who have interrogated me over the past four months had any assessment of the contradiction between my living standard, their living standards, (which is still better than all those hardships endured by most in Vietnam), and the living standards of those "heroic" wealthy men of Vietnam's oil and natural gas industry.

They have used magic to share with each other millions of US dollars, with a straight face just like villagers share their fish from the pond. These "heroes" have appeared at all places in Vietnam. The police officers believe they are protecting national security, when actually, from another angle, they are protecting the most corrupt and destructive regime in Vietnam's thousands years of long history. This regime, every hour of the day, is bleeding the nation of its properties and incurring secret and dirty foreign debts, which our children and grandchildren will have to pay for a long time. The speed at which they have accumulated wealth make one dizzy. The former Solidarity Chairman and President of Poland Lech Walesa accurately observed that "Communism is the longest route to go from capitalism to capitalism." And the capitalism in Vietnam now is a fake one! This regime has also caused the loss of land and sea, for which our forefathers bled.

B) Petition:

To overcome our difficult situation as I have presented, I propose to the Parliament, the Government, and the Central Committee of the Party to research and examine my recommendation to have a national referendum in Vietnam.

In this referendum, the only question that Vietnamese people need to have an answer is:

Should Vietnam have a multi-party system?

Those who agree will mark "yes." Those who disagree will mark "no."

I will be happy and ready, together with friends inside and outside Vietnam, waiting for dialogues organized by the Parliament, the government, or the Vietnamese Communist Party, to clarify the above petition. I genuinely care for their considerations and thank them in advance. In the event that any law enforcement agencies in Vietnam regard my petition as a violation of the law, I am ready to face the worst consequences that might happen. Regarding my current situation, it is very unclear and puzzling, very wrong, the behavior of the security agency, the secret police, toward me over the past four months. In lieu of a conclusion, I would like to reiterate a statement of the revolutionary, Nguyen An Ninh (1900-1944):

"Freedom cannot be something for which one begs. Freedom must be taken."