Reporters Without Borders voiced outage at the action of a Hanoi court today in convicting a cyber-dissident of "spying" and sentencing him to 13 years in prison followed by three years of house arrest. The dissident, pharmacist Pham Hong Son, was detained in March 2002 after translating an article about democracy into Vietnamese and posting on the Internet.
The organisation described the sentence as exceptionally heavy and said it was the outcome of a summary trial lasting just a few hours preceded by nearly 15 months of abusive detention.
"By convicting Dr. Pham Hong Son, the authorities have violated the Vietnamese laws and constitution, which guarantee freedom of expression and opinion," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said, accusing the authorities of using the charges of "spying" and endangering "national security" to systematically crush all dissent.
Ménard called on President Tran Duc Luong to intervene with the judicial authorities to obtain a review of his trial and his release. He said Reporters Without Borders would also alert the international organisations to which Vietnam belongs, including ASEAN and the International Organisation of French-Speaking Countries, about the case.
Police surrounding the Hanoi people’s court today prevented journalists from attending Dr. Pham’s trial, which last less than half a day. A group of six diplomats from the embassies of the United States, Canada, Australia and several EU countries, who had registered their request to attend, were also barred from the courtroom.
The indictment, dated 10 April 2003, accused Dr. Pham of contacting dissidents in Vietnam and abroad, endorsing the views of these dissidents and "becoming a supporter of the action plan to use press freedom and democracy to defend pluralism and the multiparty system." The article on democracy for which he was arrested - which he took from the website of the US embassy in Vietnam - was described as an "anti-party and anti-government document" One of the diplomats waiting outside the courtroom described the sentence as "abnormally harsh."
A physician and marketing director of a pharmaceutical company, Dr. Pham has been held in a prison near the capital since his arrest on 27 March 2002. Little is known about the conditions in which he has been held. For the first four months after his arrest, it was not known where he was, and neither his family or his lawyer were allowed to visit him.
Prior to translating and posting the US embassy article, Dr. Pham had written and posted several other articles in favour of democracy and human rights on Vietnamese discussion forums.
Five cyber-dissents are currently detained in Vietnam. Two of them were sentenced during the last two months of 2002 to prison terms of four and 12 years. Another is under house arrest.