Monday, May 26, 2008

Reporters' arrests protested

Two reporters with the state sponsored Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre newspapers of Vietnam have been arrested for their reporting on a major corruption scandal in the country. Both newspapers have protested strongly, which is unusual under the circumstances. The arrested reporters are Thanh Nien’s Nguyen Viet Chien and Tuoi Tre’s Nguyen Van Ha. They are charged with “abuse of power.”

The Economist noted:

In an unprecedented show of defiance, both newspapers are standing by their reporters. Thanh Nien has run an editorial demanding: “Free the honest journalists.” It says it has been “swamped” with messages of support from the public and some National Assembly members. It challenges the authorities to explain why, if the offending articles had been so inaccurate, none of the police, prosecutors and the ministry of public security had got around to pointing out the errors at any time in the past two years.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

U.S.-Vietnam human rights dialogue May 29

The 13th round of the Vietnam-U.S. dialogue on human rights and related issues is to take place in Hanoi May 29. David Kramer, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, will lead the U.S. delegation; and his counterpart will be Doan Xuan Tung, assistant to Vietnamese Foreign Minister. Agent Orange, imprisoned dissidents, and intellectual property rights are among the issues to be discussed. According to U.S. State Dept. spokesman Christopher Hill, the dialogue, which resumed in April 2007, "is a frank exchange where we raise our concerns and pull no punches. The Vietnamese government says they value it, and have made limited improvements, but they must do more. We have emphasized that the Dialogue has to focus on concrete action by the government to improve the human rights situation, and must produce tangible results."

Update: In a meeting with reporters in Hanoi Friday May 30, Kramer said his delegation raised the issue of the Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre journalists detained for their reporting on corruption, and stressed the importance of a free press. The U.S. delegation also brought up the detention of other dissidents, along with religious freedom and rule of law. Kramer said there has been progress toward religious freedom in Vietnam. The Vietnamese delegation countered with criticism of human rights practices in the U.S., noting for example, that many lack health insurance, and asked why the U.S. has not done more to help Agent Orange victims in Vietnam. According to Hanoi's Vietnam News Agency, the Vietnamese delegation "openly criticised some groups in the US for their one-sided and non-objective views on the reality and positive progress made by Vietnam in the fields of democracy, human rights and religion." The Vietnam delegation suggested such groups were trying to sabotage the country. It was not clear from this report if they were referring to Vietnamese refugee groups or to human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, or both.

Sources: Vietnam News Briefs, May 23; press release of the Democratic Party of Vietnam (based in San Jose, CA), May 19; testimony of Christopher Hill before Congress, March 12; VNA/VietnamNet Bridge May 30; Associated Press (Ben Stocking) May 30; Voice of America (Matt Steinglass) May 30; Agence France Press May 30; Reuters (Grant McCool) May 30.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Vietnam human rights hearings online

Congressional hearings on "Human Rights Concerns in Vietnam" is now online. The hearings were held before the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nov. 6, 2007. Witnesses included Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Rep. Christopher Smith, Scott Marcial of the U.S. State Dept., Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch, Nguyen Dinh Thang of Boat People S.O.S. Committee, Cong Thanh Do of the People's Democratic Party, Duy (Dan) Hoang of the Viet Tan Party, and Kathryn Cameron Porter of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

Sources: Online text of hearings at website of the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight and from the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thich Quang Do nominated for RFK award

A group of prominent dissidents in Vietnam have signed a statement in support of the nomination of Ven. Thich Quang Do for the annual human rights advocacy award of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. Thich Quang Do, along with Thich Huyen Quang, has led the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) in its protests against religious repression and other human rights violation. The UBCV was essentially banned in 1981 when the government established its own state sponsored Buddhist church for the entire country and demanded that all other Buddhist organizations join this new church.

Signers to the statement included Col. Pham Que Duong, Vu Cao Quan, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, lawyer Tran Lam, Professor Nguyen Thanh Giang, Catholic priests Fr. Nguyen Huu Giai, Fr. Phan Van Loi, and Fr. Chan Tin; Protestant pastors Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang and Rev. Than Van Truong. In their statement they noted:

"Having been living in Viet Nam, either north or south, and enduring a troublesome period of our history from 1945 until now, we very highly appreciate the most Venerable Thich Quang Do's steadfast stance, compassionate heart and smart vision in struggling for religious freedom and voicing for basic human rights. Myriad obstacles and threats, including decades-long imprisonment, could not deter the most Venerable Thich Quang Do's noble-aspirations for his Buddhist Church and community. Therefore, the most Venerable Thich Quang Do is among Vietnam's most important figures who have inspired enthusiasm, optimism and perseverance for our common cause for a civilized and happy society that tolerates any differences in religion and ideology."

Source: Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Vatican delegation to visit in June

A delegation of the Holy See will visit Vietnam from June 9-15, according to Eglises d'Asie, citing a source in Rome. The main item for discussion will likely be the appointment and replacement of bishops, with two dioceses vacant of a bishop (Bac Ninh and Phat Diem) and others with bishops that have reached their age of retirement, such as Thai Binh and Ban Me Thuot.

Other possible items for discussion will include the restoration of church property, expanding the social role of the church, some particular cases of human rights (imprisoned priests such as Fr. Ly?), and the possibility of formal diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the Vatican.

The visit had been scheduled for March but was delayed by the religious demonstrations which had begun in Hanoi last December.

Source: Eglises d'Asie, No. 485, May 16, 2008.

Friday, May 16, 2008

State terrorism, by Tran Binh Nam

State Terrorism

Tran Binh Nam

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines terrorism as “… the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective. Terrorism has been practiced by political organizations with both rightist and leftist objectives, by nationalistic and religious groups, by revolutionaries, and even by state institutions such as armies, intelligence services, and police.”
Based on that definition, what the police did to student Nguyen Tien Nam, writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia and schoolteacher Vu Hung on April 29, 2008 at Dong Xuan market in Hanoi amounted to an act of deliberate terrorism.
In an interview by Radio Free Asia broadcasting in Vietnamese on the morning of May 1, 2008, student Nguyen Tien Nam revealed that, at 9:30 am on April 29, 2008 he came to the marketplace of Dong Xuan in the center of Hanoi, and found some family members of those fishermen who were fired upon and killed by the Chinese Navy in early 2005. They got word to come there to protest against the Chinese for these killings and also for the Chinese annexation of two group of islands Paracels and Spratlys of Vietnam last December. The writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia and schoolteacher Vu Hung were supposed to be there, but Nam did not see any of them.
Student Nguyen Tien Nam carried a banner featuring five handcuffs instead of five rings of Olympics, the dominant sign of the Olympic torch procession in Saigon on that day. He spoke to the crowd in the market, urging them to participate to the peaceful protest.
The police in plainclothes converged toward him, separated him from the crowd and beat him savagely. They then brought him to the office of the Dong Xuan market, beating him hard on the street. There Nguyen Tien Nam met with writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia and schoolteacher Vu Hung, who had been apparently arrested earlier somewhere in the city and brought there.
At the market office the plainclothes police kept beating student Nguyen Tien Nam, causing him to vomit out the food he ate in the morning. Writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia complained against the police brutality toward Mr. Nam, and he himself, in turn, was silenced by blows from the police. Teacher Vu Hung told the police that they should not beat an elderly man such as writer Nghia who was as old as their fathers. As a consequence, teacher Vu Hung was beaten as well.
Thereafter the police in uniform showed up and drove them to the police station of the district of Dong Xuan for questioning. There the police abused them with vulgarity and by midnight sent them back to their homes for further questioning by the local police. Student Nguyen Tien Nam was sent to Yen Bay province, writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia to the harbor city of Hai Phong, and schoolteacher Vu Hung to the province of Ha Nam.

Back in Hai Phong, writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia composed the following poem:

My fatherland is like the donkey skin
That shrinks each time one has a wish
A wish of prosperity: its woods lose their trees, its seas their fish
A wish of territorial integrity: its islands and mountains were annexed by the foreigners…
I stood peacefully with my sign, protesting Beijing
The first people to come were the police
They looked at me as a scabrous dog
I fell down, they lift me up
Their punches again landing on my face.
Yet, they’re my compatriots
Sharing with me this arid land of rocks and sands
This land of thousands years of struggle and pain
To survive and to overcome…
I lied on the ground
My tears swallowed
Which dynasty like this one,
Along the 4000 years of my people’s history

- Nguyen Xuan Nghia (Hai-Phong, May 1st, 2008)

What was the meaning of the violence committed by the police against Mr. Nguyen Tien Nam, Nguyen Xuan Nghia and Vu Hung? It could not be seen as an act of maintaining public order. Force may be used as the last resort to maintain public order, and not to be used to deal with a peaceful protest. The gatherings organized by the student Nguyen Tien Nam conformed to the terms of Vietnam’s constitution and in doing so he did not violate any current law. In fact, the Vietnamese authorities did not indict them and released them after questioning.
As said, the use of force by the plainclothes policemen and the intimidation by the police in uniform against Messrs. Nam, Nghia and Hung should be seen as an act of terrorism, and those who committed these acts must face justice according to the law by the Vietnamese authorities. Otherwise this act of violence amounts to an act of state terrorism condoned by the highest leaders of the civil administration of Vietnam, namely President Nguyen Minh Triet and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Triet and Dung must be considered as terrorists and to be dealt with by the world community as such. They should not be allowed to travel freely in the civilized world until they order their security apparatus to stop to terrorize the people of Vietnam.
The world community should have a say in this affair to enhance the universal effort to combat terrorism under any form, whether practiced by political organizations, by religious groups, by revolutionaries, or even by state institutions such as the police in Vietnam under the leadership of the Vietnam communist Party.

May 16, 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Freedom House rates media freedom in Vietnam

Freedom House ranked Vietnam as a "not free" country in its annual report on worldwide press conditions, Freedom of the Press 2008. It noted that while there were some lifting of press restrictions in 2006 when Vietnam was entering into the World Trade Organization, 2007 was on the other hand marked, in the words of Human Rights Watch, by "one of the worst crackdowns on peaceful dissent in 20 years."

Freedom House noted that more than a dozen journalists and writers were arrested and sentenced to prison last year, for pushing for more open media or writing online essays urging democracy in the country. Among other problems:

- A 1999 law required journalists to pay damages to individuals or groups who are found to have been harmed by press articles, even if those articles were true, for example on corruption.

- Many writers and other dissidents have been punished under Article 88 of Vietnam's Criminal Code, which prohibits anti-government propaganda.

- A decree ratified in July 2006 defines over 2,000 violations of the law under culture and information, with heavy prison terms in order to protect the security of the regime.

- All media is under state control, but even here some journalists have gone outside the official boundaries, and therefore were punished, For example, two Tuoi Tre were removed from office for publishing articles on official corruption. Other underground and publications have been edited by dissidents, some online, but these individuals are liable to severe punishment.

Source: Freedom House annual report, 2008.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hoang Minh Chinh remembered

Sophie Quinn-Judge reflects on Hoang Minh Chinh (1920-2008), a Moscow-trained Marxist philosopher who first fell out of favor with Vietnam communist leaders when he advocated peaceful coexistence in 1963. A lifelong revolutionary, he had been imprisoned by the French from 1940-43 for his anti-colonial activities; and in 1960 was made head of the Institute of Philosophy in Hanoi after receiving training in Moscow. This background made him suspect to the more Maoist oriented hardliners in the Vietnamese communist leadership. He was arrested in 1967 and held in prison for six years followed by three years house arrest.

During the last years of his life, in the post-doi moi era, Chinh became a prominent leader of the pro-democracy movement:

"Hoang Minh Chinh himself continued to suffer humiliation, harassment and close police surveillance, especially after he travelled to the United States for cancer treatment in 2005 and joined forces with advocates of democracy among the overseas Vietnamese. But he still had some last words of advice for the government. In a final testament he called for more openness regarding the disputed border issues under discussion with the Chinese, justice for ordinary people and true solidarity among all Vietnamese. As many Vietnamese have reminded their leaders in recent years, he pointed out that the country does not belong to any particular party or person."

Source: Open Democracy, April 30.

Le Quoc Quan to be tried May 13

Dissident Le Quoc Quan is to be tried May 13, according to information received by his wife, along with a number of other dissidents. He has been held in prison since last November. In an appeal posted at a Facebook site, his wife said:

" husband helped to arrange meetings between Radio New Horizon reporters Thanh Thao with local democracy activists. He also helped Ms. Thanh Thao, a French citizen, and Mr. Leon Truong, an American citizen, to prepare documents promoting democracy through non-violent means. They were arrested on November 17, 2007. However after 3 weeks in detention, Ms. Thanh Thao and Mr. Leon Truong were released and left Vietnam while my husband is still in jail without reason." Two others, Nguyen The Vu and Somsak Khunmi, also face trial.

Source: Open letters posted by Minh T. Nguyen to FREE Democracy Activists in Vietnam NOW! group of Facebook, May 6.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Amnesty International protests arrest of Olympic protesters

Amnesty International protested the arrest of at least 14 individuals demonstrating against the Olympic torch relay in Vietnam en route to China. At least twelve demonstrators were arrested in Ho Chi Minh city during the relay, while more arrests took place in Hanoi, it said. Also, "In the days leading up to the torch relay, at least three people were arrested, including Nguyen Hoang Hai, a journalist and blogger who had featured articles about protests against China's international policies."

Amnesty is concerned about the ongoing crackdown on dissent over the last two years, which has targeted "lawyers, trade unionists, religious leaders and Internet dissidents with links to emerging pro-democracy groups." It called on Vietnamese authorities to "urgently investigate allegations of beatings against those detained, and ensure their safety and wellbeing."

Source: Amnesty International press release May 1.

U.S. religious commission wants Vietnam blacklisted

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report today in which it urged the U.S. State Department to put Vietnam back on the list of countries that seriously violate religious freedom. A delegation of the commission had visited Vietnam in October 2007, but found progress toward religious freedom to be very uneven in the country.

"We continue to find that lifting the CPC [Country of Particular Concern] designation for Vietnam was premature," Commission member Leonard Leo told a news conference.

Ethnic minority Buddhists and Protestants in Vietnam "are often harassed, beaten, detained, arrested and discriminated against and they continue to face some efforts to coerce renunciation of faith," the commission's report said. "Arrests, detentions, discrimination, and other restrictions continue, perpetrated by recalcitrant provincial officials and abetted by the central government's suspicion of religious leaders believed to have political motives or the expansion of religious adherence in some ethnic minority areas. In addition, Vietnam has initiated a severe crackdown on human rights defenders and advocates for the freedoms of speech, association assembly, and religion, including many religious leaders."

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey acknowledged that several issues of concern remain concerning Vietnam's religious policy, but said that the situation has improved since the country was removed from the CPC list in November 2006.

Sources: Agence France Presse, May 2; Reuters May 2; U.S. State Dept. daily briefing May 2; press release of the International Commission on Religious Freedom, May 2; for full text of report, click here.