On 30 November, a French consular representative was able to visit French journalist and pro-democracy activist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van in the Ho Chi Minh City prison where she is being held. A prison guard was present throughout the meeting.
According to the consulate’s report, Nguyen is calm and in good health, and has not been mistreated. But she is very worried about the terrorism charges brought against her, and she feels "isolated." She has not yet received a response from the authorities to her request to be able to communicate with her family and friends in France through the French consulate.
Her friends and supporters have set up a web page to campaign for her release. It has a petition that visitors can sign: http://www.sosthanhvan.fr
The husband and sister of French journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, her lawyer and the secretary general of Reporters Without Borders today told a press conference of their anxiety about the plight of French journalist and activist who is in the hands of the Vietnamese government.
The 51-year-old, from Haÿ les Roses in the Paris region, was arrested with five others on 17 November while taking part in a meeting on the promotion of non-violence in Vietnam and detained in Ho Chi Minh City where she now reportedly faces terrorism charges.
She had gone to Vietnam to carry out interviews with dissidents and peasants.
"We are very worried about her health and we urge the French authorities to at least get the right to make a consular visit," her husband Nguyen Minh Ly, a French computer technician, said. "This situation is completely aberrant in which a French woman is being secretly held on the basis of absurd accusations."
Secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, Robert Ménard, said at the press conference, "We are here to express our deep concern about the plight of Nguyen Thi Thanh Van whom we know well."
"We urge the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to meet us and the family and to throw all possible resources into freeing our colleague and compatriot," he said.
The journalist’s sister Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, spoke about her character and motivation, saying, "She is a very peace-loving and humane person, who is passionate about justice, law and her country. The whole family is shocked by the accusations of terrorism. Our parents, who are over 80, are traumatised by her detention".
Her colleague, Bui Xuan Quang, described her as a "sensitive, intelligence and courageous woman." He said the terrorism accusations were based on "evidence which does not stand up to any examination", aimed at "sullying activists and journalists opposed to the regime."
Her family’s lawyer, Serge Lewisch, said he feared the worst after terror charges were brought. "A consular visit is the very least that can be done, but France, which has good relations with Vietnam, has not obtained one," he said, adding that he was ready to got to Ho Chi Minh City himself.
Those present at the press conference showed the media copies of the tracts and stickers seized by police when they arrested Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and the five others in Ho Chi Minh City. One entitled, "Promote non-violence" recalls the struggle of Gandhi and other international figures to obtain democratic change through non-violence. The other was a simple sticker promoting station New Horizon for which she was working.
Since the start of the 1990s, she has contributed to media run by the Vietnamese community in exile, including Radio Chan Troi Moi (New Horizon - http://www.radiochantroimoi.com) which broadcasts on medium wave to Vietnam.