Thursday, February 26, 2009

State Department annual report released

The United State State Department released Wednesday (Feb. 25) its annual report titled 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, in which it reports in some detail on the human rights record of each country of the world during the previuous year.

The Vietnam section of the report described the government as an “authoritarian” regime which continues to have serious shortcomings in human rights; including lack of free choice in elections; suppression of opposition parties; unfair trials of dissidents and others; use of the country’s criminal code to punish dissidents; lengthy detentions before trials; a judicial system slanted greatly against the defendant; not providing attorneys to those unable to afford their own, except in cases involving possible life imprisonment or the death penalty; often harsh prison conditions and troubles for families trying to visit their relatives; and tightened controls over the media, assembly, internet and freedom of speech. The report did note some improvements for example in the degree of religious freedom, while noting the serious restrictions that remain; and in academic related activities.

The report was denounced by Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Dung as based on “erroneous information.” He said: “The Vietnamese State always respects people's rights to freedom and democracy and creates favorable conditions for the citizens to exercise them. At the same time, it also fights the misuse of these rights to undermine State interests and the rights and legal interests of organizations and individuals." The last part of his statement is a big loophole, which in the past has been used to justify harsh crackdowns against dissidents, since the party, state and people are all assumed in official rhetoric to be one and the same.

Dung urged the U.S. to take a more pragmatic approach to the differences between the two countries over the issue of human rights, and to continue their dialogue on this topic. His denunciation of the report was relatively mild in comparison to past denunciations of the report from Vietnamese officials.

Sources: Voice of Vietnam news Feb. 27; U.S. State Department report; and Vietnam section of the report.

Internet dissident Huynh Nguyen Dao released

Dissident Huyen Nguyen Dao, age 41, was released Wednesday, Feb. 25, after serving a 2 1/2 year prison sentence for "storage of anti-government materials" and "propagandizing against the state." Dao, who writes under the pen name Huynh Viet Long, was arrested along with Le Nguyen Sang, Nguyen Bac Truyen and Vietnamese American Do Thanh Cong in August 2006. In addition to their dissident activities on Internet, all were co-founders of the Democratic Party, which like all other independent political parties in Vietnam is banned. Cong was expelled from the country in September 2006; while the other three were held in prison without trial until May 10, 2007. At the trial they were convicted of political opposition activities, with Sang sentenced to five years, Truyen to four years and Dao to three years. Dao's sentence was reduced to 2 1/2 years at an appeals hearing in Hanoi on August 17, 2007. Sang and Truyen remain in prison.

Dao said, "Every three months in jail, I was given a form to repent, but I always wrote that I was innocent." He said he served his full-term and did not apply for amnesty because he felt in doing so it would be an admission of guilt, when in fact he is performing his patriotic duty as a dissident voice of conscience in the nation.

Sources: Agence France Press, Feb. 18; Reporters without Borders Feb. 20; Viet Tan Feb. 18.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Communique issued on Vatican-Vietnam talks

Below is the text of the joint communique on talks in Hanoi between a Vatican delegation and Vietnam officials, held in Hanoi Feb. 16-17.


According to the agreement between the Vietnamese Government and the Holy See, the first meeting of the Vietnam-Holy See Joint Working Group was convened in Hanoi from 16-17 February 2009. The meeting was for the exchange of views on the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. The meeting was co-chaired by H.E. Mr. Nguyen Quoc Cuong, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Holy See Under-Secretary for Relations with States.

At the meeting, Vice Minister Quoc Cuong emphasised Vietnam’s consistent policy on the freedom of belief as well as the achievements and current situation on religious affairs in Vietnam in recent years. Vice Minister Cuong expressed his wish for the Holy See’s active contribution to the life of the Catholic community in Vietnam, the strengthening of solidarity between religions and of the entire Vietnamese population, and the strong cohesion of the Catholic Church in Vietnam with the nation through practical contributions to national construction.

Holy See Under-Secretary Monsignor Pietro Parolin took note of the explanations made by the Vietnamese delegation on the policy on freedom of religion and belief, recognising that positive progress has been made in the religious life in Vietnam and wished that the remaining unsolved matters in bilateral relations between Vietnam and the Holy See could be settled with goodwill through sincere dialogue. Monsignor Parolin emphasised the Holy See’s policy to respect independence and sovereignty of Vietnam, by which the Church’s religious activities would not be conducted for political purposes. He also stressed that the Church in its teachings invites the faithful to be good citizens, working for the common good of the country.

During the meeting, the two sides held in-depth and comprehensive discussions on bilateral relations, including issues related to the Catholic Church in Vietnam. The two sides also acknowledged the encouraging development in the relations between Vietnam and the Holy See since 1990. The two sides agreed that the first meeting of the Joint Working Group was a new and important step forward in their bilateral relations and greater efforts should be made to further promote bilateral ties.

The two sides agreed to hold the second meeting of the Joint Working Group. The time and venue of meeting will be agreed upon in due course.

The meeting of the Joint Working Group took place in an atmosphere of openness, frankness and mutual respect.

During the visit to Hanoi to attend the meeting of the Joint Working Group, the Holy See delegation will pay a courtesy call to the Government Committee for Religious Affairs and visit Thái Binh and Bùi Chu dioceses, and other cultural, historical and religious sites in Vietnam.

Source: Vatican radio, Feb. 20.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New rules on imported publications, foreign publishers

Tighter government control over imported publications and the operations of foreign publishers in Vietnam has been imposed under new regulations, reports Thanh Nien newspaper.

Foreign publishers, as well as importers of foreign publications, will have to apply for new licenses if theirs was issued before Jan. 1 this year, with their licenses to last five years. Importers must also submit a list of items to be imported for "approval from the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC). The approval will be effective only until December 31 of the year in which the application has been made... the ministry has the power to issue or revoke licenses for foreign publishing agencies’ offices in Vietnam and the importation of non-commercial publications."

However, the ministry's permission "will not be required for importing private documents and those used at international seminars or conferences organized with permission from Vietnamese authorities."

The new regulations also prohibit printing the names of authors, translators or publishing partners on the covers of books that are copies of government or party regulations, or holy books of officially recognized religions.

The new regulations also seek greater control over publishing on the internet:

"Those who want to publish an item on the Internet have to register with the ministry’s Directorate of Publishing their publication plans, including the website address and publication date.

"They also need written approval from the directorate that should be granted within a maximum of 10 days after application..."

Source: Thanh Nien [Thuy Vi, author] Feb. 14.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pham Hong Son on Vietnam-China relations

The following statement of dissident Pham Hong Son was sent to me be a mutual friend - Steve Denney

Dangers of Silence after a war

The 17th day of this February will mark the 30th anniversary of the break out of the Sino-Vietnamese war. It was short -- just about a month -- but so bloody that tens of thousands of people lost their lives and nearly all the civilian infrastructure in six border provinces of Vietnam were completely destroyed. A few days remain before this anniversary but no news, no articles in Vietnam’s official mass media recall this event. In recent years, official media in Vietnam has maintained a timid behavior towards such China-related issues as the secret border agreement in 1999, and islands or landmarks shared or occupied by China. Many activists and bloggers who tried to raise their voice about China’s evil have been put in prison or in other ways intimidated. It is clear that the incumbent leaders of Vietnam do not want to commemorate such an event and they do try to keep not just themselves but all other compatriots silent in the face of China’s hegemony.

Three dangers of silence

This essay does not intend to analyze the reasons for Vietnam’s leaders perpetuating such a silence. Many authors have explained that clearly. This essay just intends to consider three dangers that are result from that silence.

First, a danger occurs inside Vietnam. An essential factor that made up the legitimacy for Communist Party of Vietnam’s sole leadership in the last five decades has been its efforts to defend national sovereignty. Whatever the different opinions may be about the two major struggles in 20th century in Vietnam, one with the French and the other with the American-backed regime, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) took the lead and became the victor. In the long history of Vietnam, the only pride for the whole country is that it never bent before the attacker or invader, especially before the traditional Northern invader. The few leaders in history who went to the Northern neighbor for help against popular uprisings have been condemned severely. And the CPV’s strategy in struggling for power was always to find every opportunity to accuse opponents of co-operating with the foreign enemy. But, ironically, it is the CPV which has allowed many of Vietnam’s lands, seas and islands to become lost into China’s hand over the last five decades. They must have felt a simmering indignation among people who may be aware of their concessions. A veteran soldier who fought in the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979 recently uttered his feeling in a private blog Osin: “… What we call a ‘victory’ had to be paid by blood and human heads… And 30 years have passed since we advanced furiously straight to northern border, but islands are still lost and the country still silent…” The CPV is now trying every effort to hide their concessions to Northern invader. The CPV may succeed in silencing people to some extent, but over time, with the support of sophisticated Internet, the truth will come to every person. And the current silence will become as fatal as a tight lid on a steaming tank.

A second danger is to push China more into a wrong path. China is vast in geography and great in culture and history and in the far past China was a superpower for centuries; so an ambition to bring back the past image of a superpower for a contemporary China is understandable and natural. But the Communist Party of China (CPC) which has held sole leadership over China since 1949 seemed so hasty and took several wrong and disastrous roads toward achieving their righteous ambition. In the Mao era from 1949-1976, China conducted a series of such paranoia-filled polices such as the “Anti-rightist campaign”(1957), “Great Leap Forward” (1958-1960), “ Cultural Revolution” (1966-1969); all these campaigns only brought the death of tens of millions of people and a huge devastation of natural and cultural environment. Deng Xiaoping in 1978, a successor to Mao, decided on a new and right way by opening his country to the world but unfortunately only for economy and technology. Actually, many Chinese people enjoyed the results of economic modernization over the last three decades. China has escaped successfully from the poor-nation list in a standard of income per capita, China has reached the largest reserve in USD, China became a third spaceship-owning country and China is a nuclear weapon owner. However, China contains within itself an insidious disaster like Japan in the Meiji era or Germany in the post-WWI period encountered. These two latter nations, which became very powerful in economy and technology by applying Western scientific knowledge and know-how, were both directed by authoritarian politics into a catastrophic hegemony – World War II. So the silent or bending behavior of the CPV before China’s hegemony southward is like urging the CPC to venture further on the wrong and disastrous path. More dangerously, once a war breaks out, those who have to go to a battleground first are not decision-making people but only ordinary citizens

The third danger is to destabilize regional and world peace. In pre-contemporary history, war was not a rare phenomenon for the two countries, Vietnam and its Northern neighbor. Every dynasty in China carried out at least one invasion into its southern neighbor Vietnam. But Vietnam’s leaders, together with their people, were always determined to defend its sovereignty and honor though the leaders had to conduct skillful diplomacy toward their giant neighbor after any victories. So for several centuries, the Vietnamese people’s resistant spirit made an indomitable shield for South-East Asia nations against the Northern invasion. But now Vietnam’s contemporary leaders of the CPV have failed to follow in their ancestors’ wisdom, so the shield for regional and then world peace is being broken up.

Open to rescue

In the time of economic crisis, people may neglect to care about things other than making money; thus a brief war like Sino-Vietnamese war that broke out 30 years ago may no longer draw much attention. However, the hegemony of the attacker in that war remains fierce and appears stronger. More importantly, the attacker behaves aggressively not just toward the outsider but the insider. Charter 08, a common statement made in 2008 by many Chinese people, including intellectual and peasant, states: “…. and this year, 2008, it has promised to promote a ‘national human rights action plan.’ Unfortunately most of this political progress has extended no further than the paper on which it is written. The political reality, which is plain for anyone to see, is that China has many laws but no rule of law; it has a constitution but no constitutional government. The ruling elite continues to cling to its authoritarian power and fights off any move toward political change. The stultifying results are endemic official corruption, an undermining of the rule of law, weak human rights, decay in public ethics, crony capitalism, growing inequality between the wealthy and the poor, pillage of the natural environment as well as of the human and historical environments, and the exacerbation of a long list of social conflicts, especially, in recent times, a sharpening animosity between officials and ordinary people. As these conflicts and crises grow ever more intense, and as the ruling elite continues with impunity to crush and to strip away the rights of citizens to freedom, to property, and to the pursuit of happiness, we see the powerless in our society—the vulnerable groups, the people who have been suppressed and monitored, who have suffered cruelty and even torture, and who have had no adequate avenues for their protests, no courts to hear their pleas—becoming more militant and raising the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions. The decline of the current system has reached the point where change is no longer optional.”

Change the Chinese signers meant is a transition to democracy. And democracy is also what many Vietnamese people in recent years demand. Democracy is proven to be the best solution to settle any dispute or trouble without violence, and is the best mechanism to build social harmony and national prosperity in durable peace. So the problem is how to convince the CPV and the CPC to believe in and follow democratic values.

Pham Hong Son

Feb. 11, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

Vatican delegation to visit Vietnam

A Vatican delegation is to visit Vietnam Feb. 16-21, in response to an invitation from the Vietnam Foreign Minister. The delegation will be headed by Monsignor Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s Undersecretary of State for Relations with States. Although the purpose of the visit has not been announced, observers speculate that the two parties will discuss diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the Vatican. A road map for the relationship was set out in talks in June 2008 between a Holy See delegation and Vietnam Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem.

The visit comes after a year of rising tensions between the Catholic church and the government of Vietnam over land issues, particularly in Hanoi and also in Saigon and Vinh Long. There is concern that the Vietnam side might pressure the Vatican to remove Hanoi Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, who according to J.B. An Dang has “suffered a long period of virtual house arrest, calculated public defamation campaign by state-controlled media, not to mention public threat of violence and death aimed at him personally,” because of his forthright stand on the Thai Ha parish church property issue.

The issue of dioceses without bishops will also be dicussed, according to J.B. An Dang: “There are numerous dioceses such as Phat Diem, Buon Me Thuot still without a bishop, and there are aging bishops who would like to but cannot retire due to lack of replacement such as bishops of Vinh and Thai Binh dioceses.” This is a chronic problem in Vietnam, due to the requirement for government approval of bishops, and the slowness of the Vietnam government ot issue such approvals.

J.B. An Dang also noted that a Vietnamese Catholic priest who has accompanied the Holy See delegation on previous trips to Vietnam will not be allowed to go this time:

“Msgr. Barnabe Nguyen Van Phuong, a Vietnamese priest, bureau chief at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who has joined the Holy See delegation in previous 15 trips to Vietnam, seems not to be welcomed by Vietnam government. He will be replaced by another priest. This has raised further concerns among Catholics in Vietnam.”

The Holy See delegation will also visit some dioceses and meet with the Vietnam Catholic Bishop conference while in Vietnam.

Source: VietCatholic News Feb. 9.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Vu Hung, Amnesty International appeal

Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action notice on behalf of Vu Hung, a high-school physics teacher who was arrested Sept. 14, 2008 and has not been heard from since he was moved from his cell to B14 prison in Hanoi two months ago. He is reported to be in poor health from beatings during interrogations and a hunger strike he held to protest his treatment. Police also reportedly visited his family and asked them to sign an affadavit on his mental health, raising concerns about his ill-treatment.

Vu Hung is one of at least nine people arrested last September for demonstrating for blogger Dieu Cay and against a border agreement with China. It is reported they will be charged under Article 88 of Vietnam's penal code, which prohibits "conducting propaganda" against the goverment.

Vu Hung has been active in pro-democracy movements since 2006 and has suffered the consequences. He was among 14 people arrested for demonstrating against China when the Olympic torch relay passed through Ho Chi Minh City in April 2008. He lost his teaching job in July 2008 for his activism.

Amnesty International is asking that letters be written to various government officials expressing concern about the ill-treatment of Vu Hung and demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Vu Hung and his colleagues.

Source: Amnesty International Urgent Action notice Jan. 23.