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Vietnam 16 September 2004

Dutch premier urged to press Vietnamese on ailing cyber-dissident Pham Hong Son

Reporters Without Borders today called on Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency, to press the Vietnamese authorities to free ailing cyber-dissident Pham Hong Son during the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) being held in Hanoi early next month.

According to his wife, Son is suffering from an inguinal hernia that could prove fatal if not operated on, but he has received no treatment and earlier this month he was moved to a prison far from Hanoi, where his family lives.

"We call on the Netherlands, as the European Council’s current president, to be firm on the issue of human rights in order to stress the fact that the ASEM summit is not just about economic cooperation," Reporters Without Borders said.

Son’s wife, Vu Thuy Ha, told the US radio station Radio Free Asia that her husband, who has been in solitary confinement for more than a year, appeared very weak the last time she visited him, on 16 August. She said he was using a rope to hold his hernia in, and had difficulty walking. Two weeks after this visit, he was transferred to the Yen Dinh detention centre, about half a day’s journey from Hanoi.

Lam Thu Van, a former surgeon in a Saigon hospital and today head of the Democracy for Vietnam Centre in Montreal, said Son needs an operation as soon as possible, as he could die as a result of complications from the hernia. Son’s wife travelled to Yen Dinh on 11 September with their two children but they were denied the right to see him.

A physician and representative of a foreign pharmaceutical company, Son has been in prison since 27 March 2002 for translating an article from the US embassy website called "What is democracy?" and posting it online. He also wrote many articles about democracy and human rights that were posted in Vietnamese discussion forums.

The Hanoi people’s court sentenced him on 18 June 2003 to 13 years in prison for "spying" and three years under house arrest. The sentence was reduced on appeal on 26 August 2003 to five years in prison and three years under house arrest.

The aim of the ASEM summits is to promote Asia-Europe dialogue. They bring heads of state and government from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), plus China, Japan and South Korea, together with their EU counterparts and the European Commission president. The next summit will be held in Hanoi on 8-9 October.

Over 13 years ago, Reporters without Borders created its "Sponsorship Programme" and called upon the international media to select and support an imprisoned journalist. More than two hundreds news staffs around the globe are thus sponsoring colleagues by regularly petitioning authorities for their release and by publicising their situations so that their cases will not be forgotten. Currently, Pham Hong Son is sponsored by : SVM Micro,

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