Sunday, April 29, 2007

Amnesty International protests crackdown

Amnesty International issued a press release April 24 protesting the political crackdown that has been underway in Vietnam since the APEC conference last November. It urged Vietnam to release on April 30 "all those arrested, detained and imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, to peaceful assembly and association, in accordance with Vietnam' s obligations under international law." It also urged Vietnam to repeal laws in its Criminal Code, such as Article 88, which do not conform to the rights of free expression guaranteed under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a signatory.

Amnesty cited the March 30 trial of Fr. Nguyen Van Ly and his four co-defendants (see earlier reports in this blog), the first of several political trials expected to take place in coming months.

The first wave of arrests at the APEC conference were of leading members of the United Worker Farmer Organization (UNFO) which advocates for the right of Vietnamese to form and join independent trade unions. No charges have filed against them, but they are likely to be charged under Article 88 of Vietnam's Criminal Code, which prohibits spreading anti-government propaganda. Amnesty noted the arrest of dissident lawyers, including:

- Le Quoc Quan, who had been in the U.S. on a five-month fellowship from the National Endowment for Democracy, studying the role of civil society in emerging democracies. He was arrested in March, just a few days after his return to Vietnam and is presently imprisoned in Hanoi. He has been charged with attempting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of Vietnam's Criminal Code; the maximum penalty for this offense is the death penalty.

- Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Ngan. As noted in earlier entries here, these two lawyers near Hanoi had been working together in representing dissidents before the court and have been under arrest since March. Both belong to the outlawed opposition group, the Progression Party.

- Bui Thi Kim Thanh, a land rights activist who was forcibly admitted to the Bien Hoa mental hospital outside Ho Chi Minh City, apparently for her involvement with the dissident Democratic Party.

The press release listed 23 dissidents arrested since November, most of them affiliated with dissident organizations, such as the Democratic Party of Vietnam, UNFO, Progression Party and Bloc 8406.

Source: Amnesty International press release, April 24.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Writer Tran Khai Thanh Thuy arrested

Novelist and journalist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, age 47, (pen names Nguyen Thai Hoang and Nguyen Thi Hien)was arrested on Saturday (April 21) according to Reporters Without Borders. Authorities say police caught her in the act of disseminating "subversive" documents online and confiscated a portable USB drive containing articles she had written. She is accused of violating Article 88 of Vietnam's Criminal Code, prohibiting the dissemination of anti-government propaganda. She is also accused in Vietnam's official media of belonging to the dissident 8406 bloc, organizing an independent trade union and supporting a dissident human rights commission. Thuy is a recipient of Human Rights Watch's Hellman/Hammett award, granted to dissident writers for showing "courage in the face of political persecution."

PEN reported on Nov. 22, 2006 that Thuy "was briefly detained on 2 September 2006 for her Internet writings, followed by three weeks of daily interrogation sessions. She was again briefly detained on 11 October and interrogated about the essays 'The Grotto', 'Self-Narration' and 'Dialogue' written after her detention in September. She was also reportedly brought to an open 'People's Court', in which members of the public are forced to participate in the abuse and humiliation of those accused. She is now believed to have been placed under effective house arrest and has been banned from publishing her writings on-line."

Sources: Reporters Without Borders April 23; Associated Press April 23. See also PEN, Nov. 22, 2006.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Thich Nhat Hanh leads prayer for war dead

In a sermon delivered today at the Non Nuoc pagoda, about 25 miles outside Hanoi, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh urged thousands in attendance to pray equally for those who died on both sides during the Vietnam war, stating:

"We know that you fought courageously for our nation. And we are proud of you. We will not distinguish between north and south or discriminate by race, religion, party or ideology."

Last month Kay Johnson of Time magazine reported:

"Originally, the Grand Requiem ceremonies were to be billed in Vietnamese as the 'Grand Requiem for Praying Equally for All to Untie the Knots of Unjust Suffering.' But Vietnamese officials objected, saying it was improper to 'equally' pray for soldiers in the U.S.-backed South Vietnam army, not to mention American soldiers.

"'The spirit of the Vietnamese people doesn't agree with the idea of praying for foreign imperialists coming to kill millions of Vietnamese,' says Bui Huu Duoc, director of the government's Religious Affairs Committee for Buddhism. So Nhat Hanh agreed to change the name to simply 'Grand Requiem For Praying' though his supporters say the spirit of the ceremony remains the same."

His sermon began a three-day ceremony at the pagoda, the last of three such prayer ceremonies for the war dead held in the country (the other two in Hue and Ho Chi Minh City); ceremonies of this kind had previously not been allowed under the communist regime.

Ven. Nhat Hanh, well known for his advocacy of engaged Buddhism and teachings in recent years, has been travelling through Vietnam along with about 150 followers from overseas and will continue until May 9. His visit has been opposed by the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam leaders and by the International Buddhist Information Bureau, the overseas press office of the UBCV. Official media in Vietnam, on the other hand, has praised his visit as evidence of religious freedom in the country.

Sources: Reuters, April 20; Time magazine March 2; VNA/Nhan Dan April 17; VNS April 18.

U.S. Congress resolution on human rights

The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved April 19 H. Res. 243, condemning repression in Vietnam and demanding the release of prisoners of conscience. The resolution was introduced on March 14 by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey (R), after the arrests of Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, and lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan; but before Fr. Ly's March 30 trial. Smith commented:

"Father Ly's sham trial proves once again that the regime in Hanoi is not committed to the human rights reforms they promised as a precondition for normalized trade relations. It is not enough for the Government of Vietnam to talk reform - they must also show progress through their deeds... Recent government actions show that Vietnam is moving backwards, not forward. This resolution reinforces our unwavering commitment to human rights reform in Vietnam and demands that the regime in Hanoi cease their persecution of dissidents...There is no compromise, no halfway point when it comes to basic human rights. We must send a clear message to the Government of Vietnam that there is no place in modern society for their conduct."

The resolution also:

- challenged Vietnam's qualifications to be a member of the U.N. Security Council until it improves its human rights record;

- urged that the U.S. "use funds from the newly created Human Rights Defenders Fund of the Department of State to assist with the legal defense and the needs of the families and dependents of Father Ly, Nguyen Van Dai, and Le Thi Cong Nhan;"

- urged the U.S. to re-impose on Vietnam the country of particular concern (CPC) designation "if there is widespread harassment, short-term detentions, long-term house detentions, and arrests of religious leaders and religious-motivated rights defenders and activists;"

- urged that the U.S. "initiate new foreign assistance programs to advance the capacity and networking abilities of Vietnamese civil society, including new rule of law programs to train Vietnamese human rights lawyers, judges, academics, and students about international human rights law; new public diplomacy initiatives to inform and teach Vietnamese citizens about international human rights norms and responsibilities, and projects that support organizations and associations that promote the freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and association."

There were several other provisions to the resolution, basically urging that human rights be in the forefront of bilateral relations, but the provisions above would seem to be the most noteworthy.

A similar resolution was passed last year by the House of Representatives, also introduced by Rep. Smith.

Sources: PR Newswire April 19; GovTrack.US

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lawyers face trial next month

Lawyers Nguyen Van Dai (age 38) and Le Thi Cong Nhan (age 27) are to be tried on May 11, a source told Agence France Presse. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, however, that he had "no further information about the exact date of the trial."

The two, who were arrested March 6, are to be charged with "defaming" and "propagandizing against" the state, apparently under Article 88 of Vietnam's Criminal Code, which carries penalties up to 20 years imprisonment for this offense.

Nguyen Van Dai's wife Khanh told AFP that she has not been informed of the date of his trial. She has also not been allowed to visit him, has had both her home and cell phone services cut, and has been subjected to a police campaign to incite neighbors against her. She has written several letters asking permission to visit him and that he be allowed legal representation but so far has received no reply. Lawyer Tran Lam (age 80) of Haiphong has volunteered to represent Dai, but has not been allowed to contact him.

A report from yesterday shed further light on the situation and background of Dai and Nhan. It mentioned March 14 and 17 articles in An Ninh The Gioi (World Security), the official organ of the Public Security Ministry. Among other things, it accused Dai of having received a U.S. State Department scholarship to study in the U.S.; later helping to study Internet and computer security in the Philippines; distributing documents alleging religious repression to Vietnam's enemies abroad; getting money from counter-revolutionaries abroad; stealing $80,000 from the Evangelical Church of Vietnam to which he belongs (ECVN leaders told Compass that they were not aware of such money). It also says he was removed from the ECVN legal committee because the church leaders feared his involvement on human rights would "damage the reputation of the church." Nhan is accused of aiding the establishment of an independent trade union; and with Dai of fraternizing with other dissidents in the country and with anti-communist overseas Vietnamese; and of teaching students and other lawyers the "value of Western human rights."

Compass mentions that Dai was approached in 1999 by the Vietnamese Assemblies of God to represent arrested house church leader Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thuy in Vinh Phu province. Although the appeal was unsucessful, Dai became a Christian through contacts he had developed during this time. He went on to gain further notoriety by representing six Mennonites in 2004 and 2005. Although this case was also lost, two of the defendants were released before the end of their prison sentences due to strong international protest.

Nhan was recruited by Dai into his law firm and became a Christian in 2006. She was to be baptized this last Easter.

Sources: Agence France Presse, April 19;, April 18. See also my earlier March 6 and March 20 entries on Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Le Quoc Quan's arrest protested

Senator John McCain, Madeline Albright and National Endowment for Democracy chairman Vin Weber protested the arrest and imprisonment of Vietnamese lawyer Le Quoc Quan, in an April 12 letter to Vietnam president Nguyen Minh Triet. Quan was arrested on March 8, only four days after his return to Vietnam from the United States, where he had been on a five-month fellowship with the NED, studying the role of civil society in emerging democracies. The NED fellowship is part of an exchange program funded by Congress through a grant from the Dept. of State which has brought in distinguised visitors from around the world since its inception six years ago.

Albright and McCain serve as Chairmen of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute respectively, which are key partners of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Source: National Endowment for Democracy press release, April 17.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rep. Loretta Sanchez under attack

The official media in Vietnam has been publishing several articles lately attacking Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who earlier this month had attempted to meet with the wives of dissidents while in Hanoi. Sanchez, a Democrat from Orange County, California, first came into office about ten years ago with a narrow defeat over Republican Bob Dornan. In subsequent elections she has won by wider votes in this district heavily populated by Vietnamese-Americans, and this may be due in large part to her strong advocacy for human rights and the right of dissent in Vietnam. Because of its human rights record she opposed admitting Vietnam into the World Trade Organization last November; and unfortunately, the current political crackdown has followed Vietnam's admission into the WTO. She had visited Vietnam two times before her latest visit, but was also denied visas two other times, in 2004 and 2006.

Her visit earlier this month was as a member of a delegation from the House Armed Services Committee. As I note in my April 7 entry on this incident, Ambassador Marine told Voice of America that he regularly invites the female relatives of jailed or detained dissidents to tea, and informs the Vietnamese government of the invitation. This time, however, perhaps because of the presence of Congresswoman Sanchez in the planned meeting, police did not allow the wives to attend; two managed to make it as far as the U.S. embassy, but were then surrounded by police, and Marine told them to go home in order to avoid escalation of the conflict with police. In subsequent meetings with Vietnam officials and in conversations with the press, both Ambassador Marine and Congresswoman Sanchez have strongly protested this incident. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said of this incident:

"We find this action by Vietnamese authorities to be deeply troubling. The secretary and our embassy in Hanoi have raised our concerns over these developments with the government of Vietnam.''

There have been no apologies from Vietnamese officials, however, instead only a campaign of media attack against Sanchez, making it appear that she was the instigator of this meeting with the wives of "extremists", and that she in turn was instigated by Viet Tan, an overseas anti-communist organization described as terrorist by the Vietnamese press.

Some sample headlines from Vietnam News Agency: "Legislator: Sanchez motivated by personal political gain" (VNA April 14); "US Congresswoman Sanchez flouts US Constitution" (VNA April 13); "Terrorist group works out plan for Sanchez's visit" (VNA April 8).

Ton Nu Thi Ninh, Vice Chairwoman of the National Assembly's Committee for External Relations, suggested Sanchez should listen to the opinions of all her constituents, not just the "loud extremists", but only follow the "progressive" views:

"There are times when voters are conservative and unprogressive, if that's the case then their elected representatives should choose to be their leaders not their followers."

Ninh said that the real purpose of Sanchez's recent visit to Vietnam was "to get in contact with relatives of criminal elements of society" in order to create pressure on the government.

VietnamNet Bridge published a letter from two Vietnamese-American residents of Orange County, who seemed to be making an appeal for racist hate mail to be sent to Sanchez:

"Let’s raise our voice to show Sanchez that the community of Vietnamese Americans in the Orange County is not silly. We are able to replace her by young and bright faces. Let’s raise our voice by sending emails to Sanchez’s office through, calling to 202-225-2965 or sending letters to 1230 Longworth HOB. Washington D.C. 20515.

"Our direct voice is the strength of community. Let’s express our opinions to this loudmouthed but ineffective Mexican-origin congresswoman."

Vietnam News Agency claimed:

"But 'Viet Tan' was still successful in persuading Congresswoman Sanchez to put pressure on the U.S Ambassador Michael Marine for a meeting with relatives of several extremists in the country who had been arrested, such as Pham Hong Son, Nguyen Vu Binh, Le Thi Cong Nhan, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Quoc Quan. They even intended to transfer 4,000 USD, with Sanchez’s help, to hire lawyers for Le Quoc Quan, Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Cong Nhan and Tran Thuy Trang."

The evidence of Sanchez's links to the Viet Tan group seems pretty flimsy, but in any case the media description of dissidents as "extremists" when their only crime is to advocate a more democratic society, and finding it outrageous that Sanchez would apparently try to hire lawyers for the detained dissidents, is indicative of a sadly hardline toward dissent presently being pursued by the political leadership of Vietnam.

Sources: VNA/VietnamNet Bridge, April 8, April 12, April 14; Nhan Dan, April 14; Orange County Register, April 6, April 5, April 10.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

U.S. official meets Thich Quang Do, Vietnam officials

Visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Eric John told reporters Tuesday that human rights and freedom of expression in Vietnam will be a priority in U.S.-Vietnam relations. John refused to discuss specifics of his meeting with Thich Quang Do, leader of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), or of his meetings with government officials where he raised the issue of human rights. However, he said:

"In general my points were that Vietnam has reached a level of development where it should be confident enough to allow the space necessary for a greater political discourse,' John said at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy."

According to the International Buddhist Information Bureau in Paris, which functions as the UBCV overseas press office, the meeting lasted two hours. Its information was based on a conversation with Thich Quang Do, who urged greater support from the U.S. for the dissident movement in Vietnam and dismissed as a "smokescreen" references to Vietnam's communist leadership being divided between hardliners and pragmatists.

The IBIB press release concluded:

"Thich Quang Do told the delegation that, at the same time Hanoi had showed leniency towards some democratic activists for its own political ends, it had pursued a systematic and ruthless policy of repression against the outlawed UBCV. He cited the systematic harassments, intimidation, assaults and surveillance of members of 20 UBCV provincial representative boards set up to help poor people in the Central and Southern provinces, and the arbitrary detention under house arrest, without any due process of law, of the UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and himself. 'We are both prisoners within our own Monasteries, deprived of all basic freedoms and rights'. This policy of religious repression was not only targeted against the outlawed UBCV, he said. Other non-recognized religious bodies such as the ethnic Christian Montagnards, the Protestants and the Hoa Hao suffer similar repression today.

"However, Thich Quang Do told the US delegation that he remained optimistic. 'Buddhism teaches us that all things are impermanent. Nothing lasts forever. Vietnam’s Communist regime is no exception to this natural rule. The day will come when democracy and freedom will flourish in Vietnam.'”

Sources: Associated Press, April 10; Que Me, April 9; see also Voice of America, April 12.

Police threaten to torture 10-year-old girl

Police in the southern Dong Thap province have been suspended after they threatened a 10-year-old girl with torture, according to local press reports. The girl's fifth grade teacher had taken her to the police station on suspicion of stealing the equivalent of US$3 dollars from her classroom. Police threatened to jail or torture her, but she maintained her innocence. Since the incident she has refused to go back to school and has been hospitalized for psychological problems.

Source: Associated Press, April 11.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bloc 8406 protests Fr. Ly trial

The major dissident group Bloc 8406 issued a statement last week protesting the March 30 trial of Fr. Nguyen Van Ly and his four co-defendants. Here is part of what they said:

"Whereas, this is a unlawful case, based on: (a) the very short preparation time of 5 weeks; (b) the offices of the investigative police and the state-controlled mass media already having convicted these defendants even before the trial; (c) many techniques used to persecute
defendants physically and mentally to force confessions such as absolute isolation, all-night interrogation, prohibition of any legal consultation; (d) additional detention as punishment (in the case of Father Nguyen Van Ly) in which his house arrest was even harsher than imprisonment; (e) the pre-determined conviction of the crime of 'propagandizing against the state' - a make-believe, strange crime that can not be found in any penal code of any democrati country or any recorded law of a civilized world.

"Whereas, the March 30th, 2007 trial is barbaric, lawless, and inhumane based on these following characteristics: (a) the trial was not open to the public as stated: a few diplomats and international reporters were allowed to be inside the courtroom only during the opening statement and the verdict, but throughout the trial, they were taken to an isolated room to view the trial through a closed-circuit television; the families of the defendants and representatives from the religious authorities were not permitted to be present, there were no defense attorneys, and the defendants' right to self-representation was denied as well; (b) Father Nguyen Van Ly and Mr. Nguyen Phong were handcuffed like criminals when entering the courtroom and Father Ly was kept handcuffed throughout the trial; (c) the defendants were only allowed to say only "yes" or "no", if they attempted to say anything other than that, they were pulled away by the policeman standing behind the dock, and especially, Father Nguyen Van Ly was smothered and dragged forcibly from the courtroom three times; (d) the trial lasted four swift hours and resulted in an eight page long conviction written after only 20 minutes of deliberation (!?!), meaning the conviction was clearly pre-determined, the trial being just a formal display to legitimize that verdict; (e) the sentences are very harsh and brutal, especially in the cases of Father Nguyen Van Ly and the two members of the Vietnam Progression Party (VNPP), Mr. Nguyen Phong and Mr. Nguyen Binh Thanh, sentences that aghast human conscience; (f) the trial is based on unconstitutional laws invented to criminalize any political activities that are reasonable, peaceful and in accordance with the human rights but threaten the power of the Communist Party; (g) the purpose is to quickly kill Bloc 8406 before its one year anniversary, dissolve VNPP and the newly founded Lac Hong Coalition, stop the movement to boycott the national assembly on May 20th, 2007 and with the future goal to smother anyone who peacefully advocates for human rights and civil rights as recognized by International Covenants and the Vietnamese Constitution, for their determination to dissolve the Communist regime..."

At our library here at U.C. Berkeley is a bilingual edition of the 1996 Vietnam Criminal Procedure Code. I don't know to what extent it might have been revised in recent years, but in a quick glance through it, I notice it says it says defendants have the right to be represented by a defense attorney, which did not happen here (Article 36 and 37). Article 159 says the court is to define the facts of the case by asking and listening to statements given by the accused, injured person, witnesses, etc., yet in this trial, according to the statement below, the defendants were allowed to say very little other than "yes" or "no".

Source: Text of Bloc 8406 statement published at VietAmReview, April 9.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

43 labor strikes in last three months

Companies in southern Vietnam have been hit by 43 labor strikes over the last three months, 16 of them against Japanese and South Korean owned plants, reports Radio Australia. Workers have walked out over wages, working hours, rest breaks and social insurance. The strikes are partly due to a labor shortage in industrial parks and export processing zones around Ho Chi Minh City. Early last year, tens of thousands of workers went on strike in Vietnam, mostly against foreign owned companies.

Source: Radio Australia, April 4.

Ly Tong won't be extradicted, says Thai court

A Thai court of appeals ruled that Vietnamese-American activist Ly Tong will not be extradicted to Vietnam, where he was to face charges for having hijacked a small plane in Thailand and then flying over Ho Chi Minh City, where he dropped about 50,000 anti-communist leaflets. The incident happened seven years ago, while former President Bill Clinton was visiting Vietnam. Tong was immediately arrested after he returned the plane to Thailand and spent 5 1/2 years in Thai prisons.

The court ruled that Tong should not be extradicted because his act had been purely political, and had not endangered Vietnam's national security. The court said Thailand did not extradite people to face political charges. In Vietnam, he would have been charged with hijacking, violating Vietnamese territory and spreading anti-Government propaganda. A spokesperson for Vietnam's foreign ministry strongly protested the decision, stating that Tong was guilty of "terrorist activities" and that he "gravely violated Viet Nam’s sovereignty, security and law, as well as international law and treaties."

Sources: Vietnam News Service, April 4; Voice of America/Ron Corbin, April 3.

U.S. State Dept. describes progress

Vietnam made progress in 2006 in it human rights performance, said an annual report of the U.S. State Department. This is the fifth annual such report, released April 5, and is titled Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006. It is intended to complement another annual U.S. State Dept. report, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, by describing actions the U.S. has taken to alleviate international human rights abuses.

The report said the U.S. has resumed a human rights dialogue with Vietnam for the first time since 2002. Improvements included the release of three prominent dissidents in 2006, and allowing U.S. officials to visit Vietnam prisons twice during the year. The most significant reported improvement was in religious policy, as the State Dept. removed Vietnam from its list of "Countries of Particular Concern" in November. However, the report also noted:

"Restrictions remain on religious worship for some ethnic minority Protestant groups in the Central Highlands, and the slow progress in registration of Protestant groups in the Northwest Highlands continued to be a focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts. The U.S. government sponsored an International Visitors Leadership Program for four provincial officials and members of the Committee on Religious Affairs to examine religious freedom in the United States, which offered them a unique opportunity to meet with U.S. Government officials, NGOs, and faith-based organizations."

The report described areas of bilateral cooperation, perhaps most notably in promoting rule of law programs, which seemed aimed primarily at making Vietnam's foreign investment climate more hospitable:

"Among the activities supported by this program during the year were the development of eight legal and institutional improvements in the country’s court operations, the training of 170 Ministry of Justice personnel through 40 policy workshops, and the establishment of 13 public fora for national legislators to discuss legal and regulatory reform. As a result of these efforts, five new laws were passed by the National Assembly and 12 legal, regulatory, and institutional actions were taken to improve the country’s implementation or compliance with international trade and investment agreements. In December, a U.S. government sponsored International Visitor program for nine senior National Assembly officials met with U.S. government and non-governmental organizations and learned the complexities of the local, state, and federal lawmaking process. The United States also hosted several U.S. speakers on judicial and legal reform issues. These guest speakers addressed lawyers, judges and law students at various venues to promote and expand the understanding of the U.S. legal system."

Other areas of cooperation included working with Vietnam's Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs to advance labor rights; and various exchange programs with Vietnam journalists.

Source: Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006: East Asia and Pacific, released April 5.

Police manhandle dissidents' wives

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine and visiting Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez accused Hanoi police of manhandling the wives of two dissidents, who had been invited to tea at the ambassador's residence on Thursday. Marine says he regularly invites female relatives of detained dissidents to tea and informs authorities a week in advance. This time, four accepted his invitation, but only two made it to the embassy, where they were surrounded by about 15 police and shoved around, prevented from entering. One of those turned back was, as Matt Steinglass of VOA reports, Vu Thuy Ha, who "is the wife of dissident Pham Hong Son, who spent four years in prison after he posted articles about democracy on the Internet, and who remains under house arrest." The wife of jailed and ailing writer Nguyen Vu Binh was also forcibly prevented from entering the embassy.

Those invited to tea included the wives of dissidents Nguyen Vu Binh, Le Quoc Quan, Pham Hong Son and Nguyen Van Dai; and the mother of Le Thi Cong Nhan, a Hanoi human rights lawyer. According to Sanchez some of the women were detained and questioned at local police stations when they left their homes Thursday to go to the ambassador's house; and barricades were set up in the streets in front of their houses.

Marine said he pointed out to police "that they were my guests, and that I considered it inappropriate for them to be interfered with." Sanchez said that during a meeting with Marine, herself and Vietnam Deputy PM:

"I suggested that this was not a way a civilized nation treated its people. He said that there were laws in Vietnam, and people who are in jail are because of those laws. I said to him these were not women in jail, these were just the wives of these people."

A Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson responded by accusing Sanchez of having shown a "lack of good will" and interfering "deeply in Vietnam's internal affairs." Sanchez, a Democrat from Orange County, California, is a leading critic of Vietnam's human rights policies.

That police would prevent dissidents' wives from meeting with the U.S. ambassador -- even though this event has occurred regularly in the past -- is further evidence of the ongoing political crackdown in Vietnam, which seems intended not only to suppress the voice of dissidents but alsoas a statement of defiance towards the U.S. for its expression of support for the rights of these dissidents.

: Voice of America/Matt Steinglass April 6; Associated Press/Ben Stocking April 6.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

BBC interview on Fr. Ly trial

The transcript of a brief BBC interview with me on issues related to the trial of Father Nguyen Van Ly can be found by clicking here.

Our conversation was in English, but the above transcript is the Vietnamese translation.

Update: Here is the English translation of the Vietnamese translation, courtesy of a good friend. The transcript did not include all my comments, for example on the unfair nature of the political trial of Fr. Nguyen Van Ly.


Father Ly's trial on March 30 continues to get attention from
governments and media around the world. The observers described Fr.
Ly's trial, with the sentence of 8 years in prison, as part of the
Vietnamese Communist Party's campaign to slam on dissidents.

Not as in the past, Vietnam authorities have allowed diplomats and foreign
reporters to attend the trial.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Steve Denney, an expert on Vietnam
matters of the Amnesty International USA, said this action of Vietnamese
authorities seems to indicate that Vietnam will not tolerate organized opposition activities.

SD: I think they want to say they do not hesitate to continue with
the current policy. That means when they see people inside Vietnam
make connections with overseas groups to form anti-government groups,
then the government will crush them with all means. Perhaps the
government wants to send a message to the world, especially to the US
government and other countries who have raised their concerns about
human right policy in Vietnam.

BBC: Beside the case of Fr. Ly, other dissidents were recently also
arrested, in your opinion how will those actions affect the VN-US

SD: At this point in time, the main concern of the Bush Administration is
trade, and Vietnam is not a priority for the U.S. in Asia and the Middle East.
However, the US Ambassador in Vietnam did a good job in expressing
his concern over prisoners of conscience. In the US Congress there is
also some pressure to push the US government to react and Bush
Administration could become tougher on the issue of human rights with
Vietnam because of this pressure.

BBC: With current US policy, do you think it is based on the concept
"economic development first, then human rights and democracy will

SD: At certain level, saying so is okay; in a broad view, which has
some truth in it. It means when the economy in Vietnam becomes more
and more capitalist, the dictatorship system, as existed before Doi Moi,
can not be maintained. More trade relations will increase individual

However, at the same time, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) still wants to maintain its control of the political system. Therefore, from VCP point of view, they must have the power to crush (purge) any individuals or groups which has the potential to become an organized opposition movement.

BBC: With the development of recent events, do you think US
government will change its policy towards Vietnam ?

SD: It is too soon to know. Fr. Ly's trial could only be sign of the
beginning, because the government has also arrested others and could
bring them to trial. Therefore it depends on the Vietnam government's next move.
At a certain point, I think U.S. will have its reaction. US Sec. of
State has said human rights is a top priority.

BBC: Most people agree that the dissidents are only the minority in
Vietnam society. There are observers who said more attention should
be given to the open-minded members within the VCP because they are
in the positions to push for wider reform. What do you think?

SD: I think we can do both. One should not forget the dissidents.
Even though they are relatively small, they are getting braver. In my
opinion, we should pay attention to both dissidents and the reformers
in the Party.

Film censorship discussed

Bureau of Cinema’s director Lai Van Sinh discussed liberalized film censorship in Vietnam during a March 30 interview with Tuoi Tre. Sinh was asked how the film Shoot as it Rings, "which was partly produced by government money, get through censorship?" He replied that although it had more sexual scenes than necessary, it did not go over the limit; and it focused on a serious problem in the society, namely the use of sexual pictures to blackmail victims for money or love. He said the "censorship committee simply suggested cutting some scenes. We censor according to what the cinema laws say, and can’t intervene too much."

He also said a new rating system is being established: "We’re currently developing a new censorship system in which films will be categorised based on audiences’ ages. There will be films for all audiences, films limited to those over 16, and restricted films, etc."

Source: Tuoi Tre/Vietnam Net Bridge, March 30.

Nguyen Phong speaks out

Reporters Without Borders has published at its website two statements of Nguyen Phong, on March 17 and March 30, in response to his arrest and trial. Phong received a six year prison sentence in the half-day trial on March 30 of Father Nguyen Van Ly and four others in Hue (see below). At the conclusion of that trial, Phong told the judge, “I will continue to fight for the values of freedom and democracy on behalf of the Vietnamese nation.”

Phong, who is President of the Thang Tien Vietnam party, challenged the constitutionality of Article 88 under which he and his co-defendants were charged. He said this provision of the Criminal Code, which prohibits spreading anti-government propaganda, contradicts "clauses 2 and 69 of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’s constitution and entirely in the spirit of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights." He said the goal of his party was "advancing Vietnam’s progress in all areas by means of an open but peaceful struggle against the Communist Party."

He described his trial as a "parody" and said the government's behavior toward him was "utterly unscrupulous."

Source: Text of both statements published by Reporters Without Borders, April 3.