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Vietnam 8 November 2002

Cyber-dissident sentenced to four years in prison

Sixty-nine doctors of Vietnamese origin have urged Vietnam’s government to release cyber-dissident Le Chi Quang on "medical grounds." In a press release issued by the Vietnam Liberation Alliance on 19 November, the doctors said the dissident, who underwent an operation in Czechoslovakia in 1990, is seriously affected by renal insufficiency.

Reporters Without Borders has confirmed that dissident Tran Dung Tien, 73, was arrested by police on 8 November while demonstrating peacefully outside the court where cyber-dissident Le Chi Quang was being tried. Tran’s family has not been told where he is being held, or the reason for his detention.

Reporters Without Borders condemned today’s jailing for four years of cyber-dissident Le Chi Quang for publishing criticism of the government on Internet.

"Even if your government persists in abusing the basic rights of its citizens, we appeal to you to free Le Chi Quang because he is seriously ill," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to justice minister Uong Chu Luu. During his trial, the journalist appeared in a very weak state and face was swollen. His family said he had kidney problems that prison officials had refused to treat.

Ménard said that Le Chi Quang had simply been exercising his right to free expression, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which had been ratified by Viêt-nam.

Le Chi Quang was sentenced to four years in jail, followed by three years of house arrest for "opposing the socialist republic of Vietnam" under article 88 of the penal code which forbids publication of material criticising the government.

During his trial in Hanoi, which only lasted three hours, the right to a defence was not respected and foreign reporters were barred from the courtroom. Only his relatives were allowed to be present. His mother said he had admitted the facts of the case but rejected the accusation against him. She said an appeal would be made against this "unjust verdict." Nearly 100 people, including dissidents, gathered outside the courthouse in protest and one of them was reportedly arrested.

The 32-year-old Le Chi Quang, who teaches computers and also has a law degree, was arrested on 21 February in a cybercafé in Hanoi and sent to prison camp B14 in the northern province of Ha Dong.

His case file includes several of his articles deemed "unlawful," including one called "Beware of the empire to the north" which was posted on the Internet. The very detailed article discussed Viêt-nam’s signing of secret border agreements with Beijing since 1999.

Two other cyber-dissidents are in prison in Vietnam. One of them, Pham Hong Son, was arrested on 29 March for translating and posting of the Internet an article called "What is democracy?" while Nguyen Vu Binh, who wrote for the magazine Tap Chi Cong San, was arrested on 25 September for posting other material on the Internet.

Tran Que, a literature teacher and founder of a group campaigning against corruption, has been under house arrest since 10 March after he posted on a website a letter sent to Chinese President Jiang Zemin about the China-Vietnam border agreement.

In this country
20 February - Vietnam
Government frees cyber-dissident while keeping online activities under strict control
19 January - Vietnam
Government announces early release of journalist Nguyen Viet Chien
5 December - Vietnam
Leading blogger’s conviction upheld on appeal
15 October - Vietnam
Newspaper reporter’s two-year sentence deals severe blow to press freedom
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