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Vietnam 28 April 2006

EU commissioner discusses online free expression during Vietnam visit

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European commissioner for external relations, said she raised the issues of free expression and imprisoned Internet users in her meetings with Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and foreign minister Nguyen Dy Nien during her visit to Vietnam on 21-21 April.

Reporters Without Borders, which asked her to do this in a 20 April letter, welcomes her action.


EU commissioner urged to request release of cyber-dissidents during Vietnam visit

Reporters Without Borders wrote to European commissioner for external relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner today asking her to raise the issue of five imprisoned Internet users during a three-day official visit to Vietnam beginning tomorrow, in which she is to meet Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and foreign minister Nguyen Dy Nien. Three of the five - Truong Quoc Tuan, Truong Quoc Huy and Lisa Pham - were arrested together in a raid on a Kiem Street house in Ho Chi Minh City last October. The other two cyber-dissidents are Pham Hong Son and Nguyen Vu Binh.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Commissioner,

Reporters Without Borders would like to ask you to take advantage of your coming meetings in Vietnam with Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and foreign minister Nguyen Dy Nien to intercede on behalf of five imprisoned Internet users - Pham Hong Son, Nguyen Vu Binh, Truong Quoc Tuan, Truong Quoc Huy and Lisa Pham - and request their release. All five are being held for speaking out in support of democracy in articles posted on websites and discussion forums.

We are particularly concerned about the continuing detention of Pham Hong Son, who was arrested on 27 March 2002 and is being held in Yen Dinh prison, 230 km south of Hanoi. He has an inguinal hernia that could prove fatal without an operation, but he is not getting any treatment. He has had chest pains and has been coughing up blood - the symptoms of tuberculosis - since July 2005. Several tumours have also developed on his face and body. His wife said last July that his prison conditions were very bad. Although he was examined by a doctor who did not diagnose tuberculosis, the symptoms have not gone away and his family is still very worried.

A physician and representative of a foreign pharmaceutical company, he was initially sentenced to 13 years in prison and three years under house arrest. This was reduced on appeal on 26 August 2003 to five years in prison and three years under house arrest. He was accused of spying because he translated articles about democracy and human rights posted them online. During his trial, the articles were described as “anti-government” and “opposed to the Communist Party of Vietnam.”

Nguyen Vu Binh is a former journalist with a Communist Party newspaper who was arrested on 25 September 2002 and sentenced on 31 December 2003 to seven years in prison and three years under house arrest. He was accused of links with “subversive dissidents” such as Dr. Pham Hong Son. The authorities objected to his participation in an anti-corruption group and his request in 2000 for permission to create a liberal democratic party. He was also accused of posting “reactionary” articles on the Internet, including an essay entitled “Reflection on the Sino-Vietnamese border accords.”

Finally, we would also like you to raise the case of Truong Quoc Tuan, Truong Quoc Huy and Lisa Pham, called the Kiem Street Internet users because they were arrested together in a raid on a Kiem Street house in Ho Chi Minh City on 19 October 2005 for participating in a pro-democracy discussion forum. We have had no word of them since their arrest and the authorities have still not deigned to say where or why they are being held.

These five people are in prison just for daring to express their views on subjects that are clearly banned in Vietnam such as democracy and human rights, although the government last year published “a white book on human rights” in which it undertook to respect free expression and promote unrestricted use of the Internet. It would seem that Vietnam has not kept this promise.

In our view, Vietnam should be required to make progress in the areas of human rights and freedom of expression as a prior condition for membership of the World Trade Organisation, to which it aspires. We hope you will be able to insist on this point during your meetings with the Vietnamese leaders.


Robert Ménard Secretary-General

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