Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release today of cyber-dissident Le Chi Quang, two years before he was due to complete his prison sentence, and it called on the authorities to show similar clemency toward the six other cyber-dissidents currently detained in Vietnam.
Arrested in February 2002 for posting essays criticising the government online, Quang is suffering from serious kidney problems. This appears to have been the reason for his early release.
"Quang’s release is an encouraging first step, but we still expect Vietnam to stop censoring the Internet and stop imprisoning Internet users just for expressing their views online," Reporters Without Borders said. "It should not be forgotten that Vietnam has one of the most monitored and filtered Internets in the world," the organisation added.
A government source said Quang was freed for "humanitarian" reasons. His health got much worse in prison, where he did not receive the treatment he needed for his kidney ailment. Reporters Without Borders had already urged the authorities to release him on medical grounds on 23 September 2003.
The six cyber-dissidents currently detained in Vietnam are:
Nguyen Vu Binh, a former journalist with the Communist Party newspaper Tap Chi Cong San, who was arrested on 25 September 2002. Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about Binh, as there has been no word of him for about three weeks.
Pham Hong Son, the representative of a foreign pharmaceutical company, who was arrested on 27 March 2002.
Nguyen Dan Que, an intellectual arrested on 7 March 2003.
Pham Que Duong, a former colonel in the Liberation Army, who was arrested on 28 December 2002.
Tran Khue, a literature teacher and co-founder of an anti-corruption group, who was arrested on 29 December 2002.
Nguyen Khac Toan, a businessman and former army officer, who was arrested on 8 January 2002.
On 22 June, Reporters Without Borders will issue a new report on the obstacles to the free flow of information online in Vietnam and some 60 other countries. It will be available on the Reporters Without Borders website (www.internet.rsf.org).
Quang was sentenced to four years in prison on 8 November 2002 for sending "dangerous" information abroad because he wrote an article and posted it online. Called "Beware of the empire to the north," it detailed the circumstances in which the government signed border agreements with China.
Quang was arrested in a cybercafé by a policeman posing as an ordinary Internet user. The Vietnamese authorities have stepped up monitoring of Internet cafés since March 2004, asking owners to keep a record of the names of all their customers and the websites they visit.