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Vietnam 21 August 2006

Police harass five journalists in bid to stop them launching independent newspaper in Hanoi

The Vietnamese authorities are trying to block the emergence of an independent press, Reporters Without Borders said today, condemning the constant harassment since 12 August of five journalists who are planning to launch out a new independent newspaper called Tu do Dan Chu (Freedom and Democracy).

“The daily harassment of dissident journalists is standard practice by the police, who regard all news media as propaganda organs,” the press freedom organisation said. “Clandestinity is often the only alternative to self-censorship and to the government’s refusal to give licences to independent journalists. We call on the authorities to stop this harassment and let this newspaper appear.”

In their efforts to prevent the newspaper’s launch, which was originally scheduled for 15 August, the Hanoi police have been keeping its five leading journalists - editor Hoang Tien, deputy editor Nguyen Khac Toan, reporter Nguyen Van Dai, editorial secretary Duong Thi Xuan and layout editor Bach Ngoc Duong -under surveillance and summoning them for questioning almost every day since 12 August.

Their homes have been searched and their mobile phones, computer equipment and many of their files have been confiscated by police officers acting without a warrant. They have also been banned from meeting or leaving the capital. But they refuse to bow to the pressure and still hope to bring out their first issue on 2 September, the national holiday.

Freedom and Democracy is not the first newspaper to receive this kind of harassment. Similar pressure was put on Catholic priest Chan Tin, the editor of the first independent publication to be launched this year, Freedom of Expression. Nonetheless, he was able to bring it out as an underground newspaper. Several of the Freedom and Democracy journalists helped with Freedom of Expression, which is still published on the Internet and is probably also distributed in hard copy in Hue, the capital of the central province of Thua Thien.

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