Friday, March 30, 2007

Father Nguyen Van Ly sentenced to 8 years

Catholic priest and dissident Fr. Nguyen Van Ly was sentenced to eight years imprisonment after a three hour trial in a Hue court, in which he and his four co-defendants were allowed no legal represention. Fr. Ly was dragged out of the courtroom after he shouted "Vietnam follows the rule of the jungle" and "Down with Communism." Foreign reporters had been allowed to view the trial on video, but the video connection was cut off after Fr. Ly's outburst.

Of the co-defendants, Progression Party founders Nguyen Phong and Nguyen Binh Thanh, received six and five year prison sentences, respectiverly; while two female associates, Le Thi Le Hang and Hong Thi Anh Dao, received suspended sentences. They were all charged with violating Article 88 of the country's criminal code, which prohibits spreading anti-government propaganda. More specifically, they were charged with starting up a pro-democracy newsletter and establishing a political party, the Vietnam Progression Party.

Fr. Ly "testified only briefly at the trial, and his responses to questions from the judges were twice cut short when he tried to make proclamations," reports Matt Steinglass of Voice of America. At the end of the trial, the defendants were asked if they would like to say anything in response to the charges. Nguyen Binh Thanh said "his actions were in accordance with international law. But the presiding judge cuts him off, too, saying that is not relevant," reports Steinglass.

The trial has been widely protested. Amnesty International described the trial as "indicative of a broader crackdown on dissent by the Vietnamese authorities that has been intensifying since the country held the APEC meeting last November." It added:

"Father Ly and his associates are the first people who have been brought to trial during the crackdown -- we fear others will follow."

Reporters Without Borders, which described the trial as a "slap in the face" of the international community urged the U.S. and EU to respond to the trial in the following manner:

"We call on the European Union to suspend its cooperation programmes in judicial matters, and we will ask the US government to put Vietnam back on the list of countries that do not respect freedom of opinion and religious freedom. If the international community does not react, all of Vietnam's dissidents will be in danger."

U.S. Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey called the trial "outrageous and appalling" and urged the Bush administration to immediately intervene with authorities in Hanoi to secure his release. Smith introduced a resolution two weeks ago that condemned the current crackdown on dissent, and warned that ongoing harassment, detentions and arrests will harm Vietnam's broadening ties with the United States and possibly result in Vietnam being put back on a State Department list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for severe and ongoing violations of religious freedom.

Sources: Amnesty International news release March 30; Reporters Without Borders news release, March 30; Associated Press/Ben Stocking, March 29,30; Agence France Presse, March 30; Asia News/Nguyen Van Tranh, March 30; Time/Kay Johnson, March 30; VNA/Nhan Dan, March 30; Paper Chase, March 30; VOA/Matt Steinglass, March 30; VOA/Dan Robinson, March 30; Asia News March 31.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fr. Nguyen Van Ly trial on Friday

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) appealed today to Vietnam's judicial authorities, asking them not to impose a prison sentence on Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly. Fr. Ly, age 60, is to be tried on Friday in Hue, on charges of spreading "hostile propaganda against the government," which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison under Article 88 of Vietnam's Criminal Code.

The RWB appeal described the trial as a test of Vietnam's political system, and whether or not freedom of speech really does exist in the country, as promised in the Constitution. In truth, free speech is prohibited by the Communist Party of Vietnam whenever such speech involves criticism of the one-party system or advocacy of other politioal parties. Two others are to be tried along with Fr. Ly: Nguyen Phong and Nguyen Binh Thanh. Phong, age 32, is charged with posting the Progressive Party of Vietnam's platform online. Thanh, age 51, is an electrician who is accused of helping to buy and maintain computer equipment for the production of Ly's newspaper.

F. Ly has spent most of the last 30 years in and out of prison and house arrest for his dissident activities. In Oct. 2001 he was sentenced to 15 years for his pro-democracy activities, but was released in an amnesty in Feb. 2004. Vietnam's official media has accused him and his group of a list of political crimes, including gathering, printing and disseminating anti-government propaganda, giving radio interviews to foreign stations, and violating the terms of his house arrest. He is a founding member of the "Bloc 8406", a pro-democracy organization founded on April 8 last year; was active in the banned Progressive Party; and editing a dissident magazine, Tu Do Ngon Luan. The magazine is still published for now, edited by dissident priests Fr. Chan Tin and Fr. Phan Van Loi, both who carry on despite being under police surveillance.

Sources: Reporters Without Borders news release, March 29; Agence France Presse/Frank Zeller March 29. See also Amnesty International backgrounder on Fr. Ly (July 5, 2001), which includes the text of his 2001 house arrest order. Tu Do Thong Tin Ngon Luan Viet Nam seems to be a site dedicated to Fr. Ly and the dissident movement there; Tu Do Ngon Luan is the online site of the magazine Fr. Ly edited, now edited by Fr. Chan Tin.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Administrative probation measure repealed

Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet signed last week a decree to abolish "administrative probation", which has been used to hold people suspected of "national security crimes", according to a National Assembly official. Approximately 200 dissidents have been subjected to a kind of house arrest under this repealed 1997 legislation, known as Decree 31.

According to Ben Stocking of AP, the decree "had allowed provincial governors to impose a probation of up to two years on those who 'violate the laws, harming national security, but not so serious as to justify prosecution.'" A Vietnam government report last September acknowledged: "Some regulations in the decree intruded upon the rights of people guaranteed by the Constitution."

The repeal was welcomed by analysts and Western diplomats, but they also noted the action could prove to be largely symbolic:

"This measure has attracted the most criticism from human rights groups, and getting rid of it is a positive step," said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defence Force Academy. "But does it necessarily improve the ability of dissidents to operate in Vietnam? No."

The repeal comes at a time when a major crackdown on dissidents is reported to be taking place in the country.

Source: Associated Press [Ben Stocking]/International Herald Tribune, March 28.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

U.S. legislator demands ambassador be fired

A senior Republican congressman, Frank Wolf of Virginia, has demanded that U.S. ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine be fired for not protesting strongly enough the upcoming trial of Fr. Nguyen Van Ly. “Why aren't our ambassadors speaking out?” he asked at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing. “I think the ambassador ought to be fired."

Tom Casey, deputy spokesman at the State Department, replied that “the issues of promoting human rights, promoting religious freedom in Vietnam are something that is important to this administration, that the embassy works on every day.” Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice testified in another hearing that "human rights is going to have to be a very big part of our agenda, and we'll continue to press the case.”

From my experience, I believe Ambassador Marine has been responsive to human rights concerns in Vietnam, perhaps more so than his predecessors.

Source: Associated Press, March 27.

National Assembly considers amnesty bill

A bill to regulate the granting of amnesty to prisoners is being considered by Vietnam's National Assembly. According to Vietnam News Agency, General Le Hong Anh, Minister of Public Security, said such a law is necessary "to reflect the state’s humanitarian policy and to create a solid legal basis for granting reprieves." The law would also apply to foreign nationals. Some legislators have questioned the bill because they feel it is "vague on whether amnesties were to be decided by judicial or administrative agencies, and its validity and effect." Other legislators have said those sentenced but temporarily exempted from serving their time should not be eligible for pardon.

Amnesty in Vietnam is normally granted on major anniversaries, particularly Tet (Vietnamese new year) which takes place around the end of January, and National Day (commemorating the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945) on September 2. The great majority of released prisoners in these amnesties are common criminals, but small numbers of dissidents have also been included in the amnesties.

Source: Vietnam News Agency/Thanh Nien, March 27.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Vietnam rejects HRW reports on crackdown

In a press conference yesterday, Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Dung denounced a recent Human Rights Watch report (March 9) on the current political crackdown on dissidents. He said the report produced "fabricated information that fails to reflect the real situation in Vietnam." Dung denied there is such a crackdown underway, yet went on to say:

"Although the State of Vietnam respects the rights to freedom and democracy of all citizens, the country never accepts the abuses of those rights to freedom and democracy to carry out activities that violate Vietnamese laws. Recently, Vietnamese relevant agencies have started legal proceedings against people who committed illegal acts to sabotage Vietnam. These proceedings comply with the law. These are normal and necessary measures to ensure national security and the community's common interest.

"In Vietnam, there are no political crackdowns, no one is arrested for his or her political viewpoint, only those who violate the law will be dealt with in compliance with Vietnamese laws."

The problem is that Vietnam's laws, particularly sections of its criminal code dealing with "crimes against national security," are worded so broadly that such legislation can be interpreted to outlaw a wide variety of dissent.

Dung also denied reports of repression against Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) leaders Thich Quang Do and Thich Huyen Quang, who he said "are leading their life and practicing religion as usual, they are by no means under house detention or probation." He said the UBCV and other Buddhist congregations were unified into the "Vietnam Buddhist Sangha" in 1981, and that this state-sponsored organization is now the "sole existing organization of Vietnamese Buddhists." That is actually one of the main issues that the UBCV monks have been protesting, that only one state-sponsored church is allowed to represent Buddhism throughout the country.

Dung cited this year's visit of Thich Nhat Hanh to the country (Feb. 20-May 9) as evidence of religious freedom.

Source: VNA/Nhan Dan March 23. See also Human Rights Watch news release, March 9.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Crackdown against Buddhist youth leaders

Youth movement leaders of the unrecognized Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam have been subjected to tightened security measures, reports a March 19 press release of the International Buddhist Information Bureau. Recent actions include:

- 30 police have surrounded the home in Hue of Le Cong Can since March 17, forbidding him to leave the home even to buy groceries. They have threatened to arrest him unless he renounces his position as head of the UBCV Buddhist Youth Movement, a position to which he was appointed in late 2006 by UBCV deputy leader Thich Quang Do.

- On March 16, police detained Thich Chi Thang for interrogation, and ordered him to cease all activities connected to the UBCV Buddhist Youth Movement. Ven. Thang is in charge of youth and educational activities for Buddhist youth in Hue.

- On March 19, Thich Thien Minh was brought in for interrogation by the Bac Lieu Security Police. Police questioned him about documents they found at his pagoda. They ordered Ven. Minh to renounce his position as UBCV Youth Commissioner, cease all contacts with the UBCV and disband the Former Political and Religious Prisoner Association which the regime considers an illegal organization. Police had torn down the small pagoda where he lived behind his brother's house on March 15, and he has been denounced in the local state-controlled press. Ven. Minh had previously spent 25 years in prison for his non-violent dissent, released in 2005.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam was once the largest Buddhist organization in Vietnam, but after the communists took control over the South, the regime began a policy of systematic persecution against it, including the arrests of its top leaders, and the forced incorporation of the UBCV into a state-sponsored Buddhist church since 1981. Several UBCV monks have continued to struggle for their right to religious autonomy from the regime and for the cause of human rights and justice in the country, often leading to their imprisonment or house arrest.

Source: International Buddhist Information Bureau news release, March 19.

Bahai faith legalized

Vietnam has legalized the Bahai faith, which has about 7,000 followers in the country. Nguyen Huu Oanh, vice chairman of the government Religious Affairs Committee, presented a certificate to ratify religious activities of the country’s Bahai community.

Source: Agence France Presse, March 21.

Rice emphasizes human rights

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the Bush administration is pressing Vietnam on the human rights issue. The statement came in response to a query about Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, from Congressman Frank Wolf during congressional hearings. Rice said she recently told Vietnam’s foreign minister "in no uncertain terms that human rights is going to have to be a very big part of our agenda, and we'll continue to press the case."

Source: Associated Press/International Herald Tribune, March 21:

Father Ly to be tried March 30

Catholic priest Fr. Nguyen Van Ly is to be tried next week along with four associates, charged with producing anti-government documents and communicating with anti-communist groups overseas, an official at the Thua Thien Hue province prosecutor's office said. The trial is set for March 30, and the charges carry up to 20 years imprisonment. Ly, who has already spent ten years in prison, and who was released on parole, was earlier moved from his parish in Hue to another parish outside the city. Ly was last sentenced in 2001, to fifteen years in prison, but was released in an amnesty two years later.

Source: Associated Press/International Herald Tribune, March 21:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Official criticizes US human rights concerns

Deputy Minister of Public Security Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Huong questioned U.S. concerns over the imprisonment of dissidents and other forms of human rights violations in Vietnam. His comments took place during a meeting in Hanoi with deputy head of the US mission, Jonathan Aloisi. According to Thanh Nien, Huong asked Aloisi to elaborate on "why the US was interested in some criminals imprisoned in Vietnam, and on the connection between the US’s interests and theirs." For his part, Aloisi said "..many people in the US and in the administration do not understand the way Vietnam deals with people jailed because of their political opinions.”

Huong said that Vietnam "has never banned people from expressing their points of view freely either on the media, in public forums, or anywhere else, even if they are critical of the government." However, he added:

“There are thousands of organizations and groups in Vietnam and no one interferes with their meetings. But we do mind those people who illegally found an organization. The laws must correct their activities.

“For example, the Vietnamese Constitution states that Vietnam has a one-party political system. It’s illegal if some people want to establish another party, not to mention secretly inciting other people to join their organization and aim to overthrow the existing government."

Huong described the dissidents in Vietnam as obstacles to improved bilateral relations, and noted with some irritation that U.S. ambassador Michael Marine was not present at the meeting:

“We know the US ambassador could not make it here today because he is in Soc Trang. We are aware that he has posed in-depth query about some monks who are related to some incidents there. We could consider that an interference with Vietnam’s internal affairs. But as we are willing to help him understand the real situation, we’ve done our best so that he could meet those ‘people of interest to the US’.."

Huong went on to describe the case of Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, who according to press reports is likely to be tried on charges of violating Article 88 of Vietnam's Criminal Code:

“We did release Ly and permit his nephews to migrate to the US. Ly pledged that after his release he would conduct religious activities and not participate in political protests. But as soon as he was released, he contacted Nguyen Cong Bang, Ngo Thi Hien, and others in the US to set up the so-called ‘Bloc 8406’. Then he set up the ‘Lien Dang Lac Hong’ organization that incited religious followers to wage demonstrations against the government.

“Ly was released on parole but after his release he ignored [the parole] regulations. So it is impossible to say he is fighting for freedom of speech or religion. He is a conspirator planning violent activities to cause public disorder..."

Actually, there have been no allegations as of yet that Fr. Ly planned any kind of violent activity. Huong also claimed Fr. Ly is not currently under detention, which would seem to contradict other press reports.

Huong also mentioned the cases of Phan Van Ban, who he said could be released if he agrees to go to the U.S. to be reunited with his family; and Nguyen Vu Binh, who Huong said could be given amnesty this year "if he could show any progress this year." Binh has been reported by by human rights groups to be seriously ill and is considered an urgent action medical case by Amnesty International.

He also commented on the cases of recently disbarred lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Ngan:

“Vietnam will continue to take action against people who incite others to act against the Vietnamese state. They include Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Cong Nhan, and some others about whom Vietnam has informed the US.

“We want security for both Vietnam and the US. We will inform you about the illegal activities of people violating the law and how we’ll deal with them.”

Huong asked that the U.S. mission in Hanoi inform Rice that the two sides were working closely to address her concerns on human rights. But he warned it did not mean Vietnam would accept things at any cost.

Source: Thanh Nien, March 20.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Update on Nguyen Van Dai

Elizabeth Kendal updates the case of Nguyen Van Dai, writing in Journal Chretien. She reports that Dai has been charged with violating Article 88 of the Criminal Code by "propagandizing against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam". Sources say Dai will be accused of consorting with certain "extremist elements" to produce evidence of religious suppression in Vietnam. For his part, in an interview two days before his arrest, Dai denied he violated Article 88, because he was in no way involved in attempting to instigate violent revolution.

Dai said that as a lawyer, he provided legal assistance to most of the nation's political dissidents, and was consequently harassed by police, frequently called in for interrogation, his phone lines cut. The official Vietnam News Agency denounced Dai, stating that he and his colleague Le Thi Cong Ngan have been removed from the Hanoi Bar (Decision No. 69/QD-BCN), his law office closed, and added investigations revealed:

"that since 2004, Nguyen Van Dai took advantage of the State's permission to establish the Thien An Lawyers' Office and the Viet Luat [Translation and Legal Consultation] company to spread propaganda, lure forces and collude with political opportunists as well as hostile forces at home and abroad which oppose the State. Their acts run counter to the interests of the nation and people."

Sources: Journal Chretien, March 20
Y Kien, March 5
Vietnam News Agency/Vietnam Net Bridge, March 13

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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

U.S. legislator urges human rights during Vietnam visit

U.S. legislator Zoe Lofgren, who represents San Jose, urged Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice to press human rights during the upcoming visit to the United States of Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem. In a letter posted at her website, she highlighted the cases of Nguyen Van Dai and Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, and cited the U.S. Commission on International Freedom's report on religious repression in Vietnam. The letter was signed by Lofgren, along with congress members Chris Smith, Tom Davis, Loretta Sanchez and Jeff Fortenberry. With the exception of Fortenberry, all are co-chairs of the Vietnam Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Source: Zoe Lofgren website, March 12.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Human Rights Watch protests crackdown

Human Rights Watch today denounced the recent arrests of dissidents and other repression in Vietnam, which it described as one of the worst crackdowns on Vietnam dissent over the last 20 years. It discussed the recent arrests of Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Ngan, Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, the temporary detention and interrogation of other pro-democracy advocates and religious leaders; along with repression against various trade unionists.

“Despite the official rhetoric, the Vietnamese government can’t really pretend to be working towards a just and democratic society when it continues to persecute those who articulate different political views, who support multi-party democracy, or simply advocate for basic human rights,” said Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

Source: Human Rights Watch press release, March 9.

BBC reporter forced to leave

Reporters Without Borders says Vietnam has refused to renew the visa of
BBC reporter Bill Hayton, and that he will have to leave by March 15.
According to RWB:

"Hayton seems to have irritated the authorities by his coverage of the
repression of dissidents. Like many of his colleagues, he refused to
comply with the Vietnamese rules requiring foreign journalists to
request permission to interview a Vietnamese five days in advance."

This is the first time a foreign correspondent has had to leave Vietnam
since 2000, "when French journalists Sylvaine Pasquier of L'Express and
Arnaud Dubus of Liberation were expelled."

Source: Reporters Without Borders news release, March 8.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

U.S. State Dept. issues annual report

The United States State Department issued yesterday its annual country-by-country report on worldwide human rights conditions for 2006. I have found this report to be very useful over the years. Its section on Vietnam can be found by clicking here. I will comment in more detail about the report within the next few days.

Nguyen Vu Binh seriously ill

From an exclusive report we received from a friend of Dr. Pham Hong Son, we have learned that Vietnam dissident Nguyen Vu Binh is seriously ill. Below is Dr. Son's report:


Urgent Report from Hanoi on Heavily Critical Health of Journalist Nguyen Vu Binh

On 15 Feb 2007, immediately after returning from visiting journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, who has been unjustly imprisoned in Nam Ha jail, Mrs. Bui Thi Kim Ngan, Nguyen Vu Binh's wife, told us in tears:

- Nguyen Vu Binh had to hop when walking and his back had to bend due to pain.

- He could not hold up his 5-year-old daughter.

- He felt tired to talk and had to stop talking at intervals in order to rest during conversation with his family.

- He has lost much more of his weight compared to the last visit of his family. His skin color has changed and darkened.

- Besides suffering from hypertension and chronic digestive dysfunction, he has suffered from permanent back pain and angina (chest pain) for more than a month. During a medical check, a doctor performing ultra-sound to check his liver revealed accidentally "Oh, poor man, you are suffering fatty liver (cirrhosis)!" Nguyen Vu Binh asked jail officers about that but they denied it. His health has deteriorated since the last medical check (Note: before any medical checks, jail officers discussed something secretly with relevant doctors)

- He has made several requests to be medically checked at National Cardiology Institute but his requests have been refused.

- Several times Nguyen Vu Binh called for help when suffering pain in jail cell but no one came to see him.

- Nguyen Vu Binh has been isolated in a small cell in Nam Ha jail.

Reported by Pham Hong Son 22:30 15/02/2007


The following petition of prominent dissidents in Vietnam addresses the condition of journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, sent to me by the same friend who sent me the above report by Dr. Pham Hong Son on Nguyen Vu Binh.


Urgent Call for Action To Save the Life of
Journalist Nguyen Vu Binh
in Light of His Critical Medical Condition

Having been unjustly imprisoned for over four years, journalist
Nguyen Vu Binh, 39, is presently facing a critical health condition.
According to a family member who visited Mr. Binh on February
15, 2007, he has lost a lot of weight, is having difficulty walking,
starting to slur his speech, and is so weak that he was could not
hold his five-year-old child. In addition to his chronic hypertension
and intestinal inflammation, Mr. Binh can hardly sleep at night
because of the back and chest pains he has had for over a
month now. In a recent doctor visit, he was diagnosed with steatosis.

Recently, due to his deteriorating health Mr. Binh has been referred
to the National Cardiovascular Institute, but was refused admission.
Many times, he had asked to be treated in a hospital but his requests
were denied.

We, the undersigned, representing Vietnam-based political parties,
human rights organizations, and press agencies,

- In light of the above incidents, resolutely condemn the Vietnamese
communist government's inhuman treatment of Mr. Binh before
world opinion.

- Urge the International Red Cross (IRC) to request that the
Vietnamese government allow IRC physicians to provide
Mr. Binh with emergency care inside the Nam Ha prison
[in northern Vietnam].

- Call upon the governments and people of all freedom loving
countries throughout the world, human rights advocacy
organizations, as well as Vietnamese overseas and inside the
country, to take urgent actions so as to protect, first and
foremost, the life of journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, and later
to secure his release from prison.

Hold the Vietnamese government to be totally responsible for the
safety and survival of Mr. Binh.

We appreciate your immediate attention, and we are ready to
provide, upon your request, necessary information regarding
Mr. Nguyen Vu Binh and his health condition.

Made in Vietnam, on this 16th day of February 2007.



1. Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights for Vietnam
Do Nam Hai, Nguyen Phong, Nguyen Chinh Ket

2. Bloc 8406:
Father Nguyen Van Ly, Do Nam Hai, Tran Anh Kim

3. Independent Trade Union of Vietnam:
Nguyen Khac Toan, Dao Van Thuy, Le Tri Tue

4. Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam:
Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Phuong Anh, Bach Ngoc Duong

5. Former Political and Religious Prisoners Association of Vietnam:
Most Ven. Thich Thien Minh, Dr. Pham Hong Son

6. Vietnam Progressive Party:
Nguyen Phong, Le Thi Cong Nhan, Nguyen Binh Thanh, Hoang Thi Anh Dao

7. Democratic Party of the XXI Century:
Hoang Minh Chinh

8. People's Democracy Party:
Tran Van Hoa

9. Freedom of Speech Online Magazine:
Fr. Chan Tin, Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, Fr. Phan Van Loi, Nguyen Van Dai, Nguyen Khac Toan

10. Freedom & Democracy Online Magazine:
Writer Hoang Tien, Nguyen Khac Toan, Nguyen Van Dai, Bach Ngoc Duong, Duong Thi Xuan

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Ngan arrested

Hanoi police today arrested dissident lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Ngan, both charged with violating Article 88 of Vietnam's Criminal Code, which forbids "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." The police warrant ordered both of them to be detained under Article 120 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows the police to detain individuals up to four months without trial pending investigation. In the case of national security defendants (i.e. dissidents), this period may be extended four times, or for a total of 20 months, after which the People’s Procurator is entitled to apply "other deterrent measures."

The Vietnam Committee for Human Rights reports:

"Nguyen Van Dai, who founded a 'Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam' in November 2006, has recently been summoned repeatedly for Police interrogations because of his pronouncements for human rights and democracy. On February 28th, following pressure from Security Police, the Business Registration Office of Hanoi’s Planning and Investment Bureau issued a 'Decision' to withdraw the licence of TNHH, the Translation and Legal Consultation firm in Hanoi of which Nguyen Van Dai is a co-founder and Executive Director. Ms Le Thi Cong Nhan, spokesperson of the unofficial 'Progress Party' and also an outspoken proponent of democracy, has also been repeatedly harassed by Security Police."

The committee believes the arrest is part of an ongoing crackdown on dissidents in Vietnam, in the wake of the APEC summit, Vietnam entering the World Trade Organization, and the U.S. State Department removing Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern regarding religious repression.

Reporters Without Borders has some additional information about Nguyen Van Dai:

"One of the leaders of Vietnam’s pro-democracy movement and a staunch human rights activist, Dai regularly posts pro-democracy essays on websites based abroad. Last June, shortly after the 10th Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, he wrote an article on the 'right to found a party in Vietnam' for the BBC’s Vietnamese-language website.

"The authorities mobilised some 200 residents in the Hanoi district of Bach Khoa on 8 February to act as a 'popular court' to try him on a charge of 'treason'. Although this kind of court does not have the power to hand down prison sentences, it is used by the government to intimidate dissidents.

"Shortly before his arrest, Dai began a blog on the Reporters Without Borders blog platform. He posted his essay on political parties there, as well as photos of his trip to the United States last year, when he met with State Department officials."

Source: Press release of the Vietnam Committee for Human Rights, March 6; Reporters Without Borders news release, March 6.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Vatican delegation arrives

A Vatican delegation arrived in Vietnam March 5 for a one-week visit, led by Msgr. Pietro Parolin, undersecretary for Relations with States – the Vatican's "deputy foreign minister". Also in the Vatican delegation are Msgr. Luis Mariano Montemayor of the Vatican Secretariat of State and Msgr. Barnabe Nguyen Van Phuong of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Among the issues to be discussed are the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the Vatican; the appointment of bishops for three vacant dioceses in the country; the process of gaining government approval for priests ordination; the return of church property confiscated decades ago; allowing the church to resume its educational and social welfare activities of the past; and problems such as the reported mistreatment of Catholics in northwestern Vietnam, and the arrest of Fr. Nguyen Van Ly in Hue for his dissident activities.

This is the 15th round of talks between the Vatican and Hanoi. In January PM Nguyen Tan Dung met with Pope Benedict in Rome, and it is speculated by some that Vatican-Vietnam relations will improve substantially over the period of Pope John Paul II. Nevertheless, longstanding problems remain, particularly the government control over the ordination of priests and the appointment of bishops.

Sources: UCAN news, Feb. 28; Zenit news March 2; BBC news March 5; Associated Press, March 5; VNA/Nhan Dan, March 5.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Four dissident poets honored

Vietnam has announced that four poets from northern Vietnam will be honored with the State Prize, fifty years after they were arrested and their works banned. The four, two of whom are now dead, are Hoang Cam, Le Dat, Phung Quan and Tran Dan. They led an intellectual movement in North Vietnam during the late 1950s, at a time when the regime was emulating China in its "let a hundred flowers bloom" campaign. They expressed their dissent through two two journals, Giai Pham (Works of Beauty) and Nhan Van (Humanism). Unfortunately north Vietnam also emulated China in its crackdown on dissent following this two year period of relative tolerance.

BBC reports that communist Vietnam is once again experimenting in openness, and notes state media coverage "has also been interesting because of the frank way in which it described how the poets were sent to re-education camps after calling for more freedom."

The NLF interviews

There are banned books, there are burned books, and then there are buckshot books. The books here have some buckshot in them from a military attack on the U.S. Embassy during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Of course, that was not the main purpose of the raid, they were likely stray gunfire, but in any case it is an interesting piece of memorabilia. These are among 52 volumes of interviews conducted by the Rand Corporation and U.S. officials in South Vietnam during the war in Vietnam, with captured or defecting National Liberation Front soldiers. They were brought to the U.C. Berkeley library with the final closure of the UCB Indochina Center this last year. Very few libraries have these volumes, and among those that do, most have them in microfilm. For anyone doing research on the NLF and life in general in Vietnam during this time, they are very valuable primary source materials. They were originally assembled by Douglas Pike (my former supervisor) while he was a U.S. Foreign Service officer in Vietnam and brought to Berkeley when he retired from government in 1981 and brought his materials to U.C. Berkeley. He had intended to take the volumes with him when he moved to the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech in 1997 but was prevented from doing so. Mr. Pike passed away in 2002, but these volumes are among the many items, including his prolific writings, that will carry on his legacy. The books in the photos will be repaired before shelving in the main stacks of our library here at U.C. Berkeley.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Fr. Nguyen Van Ly arrested

Nhan Dan, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Vietnam reported Feb. 26 that dissident Catholic priest Fr. Nguyen Van Ly has been arrested in Hue, accused "of carrying out propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam according to point C, item 1, article 88 of the Penal Code. "

That Fr. Ly's only crime is to dissent from the ruling party in Vietnam is evident even in the official denunciation of him. Nhan Dan describes his supposed criminal history:

"Nguyen Van Ly, born on May 15, 1946 in Vinh Chap commune, Vinh Linh district of Quang Tri province, was appointed priest in 1974. After the liberation of the south, Nguyen Van Ly had carried out many activities against the country. In September 1977, he was arrested for illegally distributing documents against the administration. On December 9, 1983, he was sentenced for 10 years in prison by the People's Court of Binh Tri Thien province regarding his crime in attempting to destroy the people's unity bloc and security. In 1995, the People's Committee of Thua Thien-Hue decided to impose compulsory residence against him. On February 22, 2001, Thua Thien Hue authorities issued the administrative probation, however he disobeyed this and incited parishioners to act against the administration. On May 17, 2001, the police of Thua Thien-Hue arrested him and on May 19, 2001, he was sentenced 15 years in jail failing to comply with an administrative decision by authorised State agencies and for sabotaging the policy of uniting the whole people. On February 1, 2005, he was granted amnesty and was kept under surveillance at No. 69 Phan Dinh Phung street, Hue city."

The documents that Fr. Ly distributed in 1977 were statements of the archbishop of Hue at the time, Fr. Nguyen Kim Dien, who was one of the first religious leaders to publicly dissent from the regime's policies, at a time when the society was extremely closed, both within and toward the outside world.

Nhan Dan goes on to say that Fr. Ly showed no repentance after his release, moving from his residence several times without seeking official approval (indicating he was under a form of house arrest), and then "establishing contacts and colluding with political opportunists and reactionaries at home and abroad in order to issue the so-called 'declaration on calling for the right to form parties in Vietnam. and then the 'declaration on freedom and democracy for Vietnam in 2006' which sought signatures to support the attempt of overturn the administration."

Police raided his residence on Feb. 18, and confiscated "six computers, six printers, dozens of telephones connecting with the Internet, 136 mobile phone SIM cards and more than 200kg of documents relating to the establishment of reactionary organisations opposing the Communist Party and the State of Vietnam."

According to a press release today by Reporters Without Borders, Fr. Ly was editing a dissident magazine, Tu do Ngôn luan (Free Speech), at the time of his arrest. Two other editors of the magazine, long time dissident Father Chan Tin and Father Phan Van Loi, have been put under house arrest. The English language version of the manifesto referred to by Nhan Dan can be found here in audio format or read here.