Sunday, March 18, 2007

Vietnam may release Nguyen Vu Binh, says FM

Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem said his government will consider releasing Nguyen Vu Binh, presently reported seriously ill, during talks in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Binh is a 39-year-old journalist who was sentenced to seven years in prison, plus three years of house arrest on charges of "spying" because "he allegedly passed information to overseas Vietnamese groups through the Internet," reports Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post. Binh suffers from hypertension, liver disease and other ailments, becoming so weak that he cannot even lift his own 5-year-old daughter.

Binh's case was among a number of cases raised by Rice during her meeting with Khiem. A State Dept. spokesperson said Rice "repeated the idea that we want to work with the Vietnamese government in the spirit of respect and constructive dialogue that yields concrete steps that furthers the issue of human rights in Vietnam." For his part, Khiem said that 99 percent of Vietnamese support the government's laws and policies, and claimed that even Nguyen Vu Binh's parents opposed him.

He also referred to another dissident recently arrested, Catholic priest Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, who Khiem said is under a "kind of an administrative management, something like that. . . . But if he continues his violations, he will be arrested." Interestingly, Kessler's article concludes with the following passage:

"Pham Gia Khiem referred to Nguyen Van Ly as 'Ong Li,' using a phrase of respect, but when the interpreter rendered that as 'Father Ly,' one of the Vietnamese officials present interrupted him, saying, 'Not Father.' Vietnam does not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican."

Actually, in the past, when the government pursued a more hardline and doctrinaire policy on religious dissent, it commonly referred to dissident clerics as "reactionaries hiding under the cloak of religion" and refused to accord them their religious status. This may be the case with Fr. Ly.

Source: Washington Post, March 17. See also Reuters, March 15.


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