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Vietnam 27 August 2003

Cyber-dissident gets five-year prison sentence

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) protested today at a five-year jail sentence imposed on Vietnamese cyberdissident Pham Hong Son, who has already been in prison for more than a year and half.

"Five years in jail for translating an article about democracy and posting it on the Internet is very heavy punishment," it said, calling on the international community, especially the European Union (EU), to continue pressing for his release.

Pham Hong Son

Dr Pham, who works for a foreign pharmaceutical company, was sentenced in June to 13 years in prison and three years of house arrest, allegedly for "spying." In an unusual move, the prison sentence was cut by eight years today by the Hanoi supreme people’s court on appeal, after the charges against him were reportedly changed to allow it.

Reporters Without Borders said the reduction was a political decision and a sop to international criticism. Before the appeal, the organisation had called on the secretary-general of the Intergovernmental Agency of French-Speaking Countries, the French foreign minister and the European commission’s external relations commissioner to intervene and to ensure diplomats could attend the trial.

The 26 August appeal, which lasted several hours, took place amid tight security. Journalists and a group of diplomats were not allowed in. Only the prisoner’s wife, Vu Thuy Ha, was permitted to attend.

She said Pham left the dock in protest again the hearing being held in secret and that the judges had paid more attention to his lawyer’s argument, but added that her husband should have been declared innocent. he said she had been able to whisper to him in the courtroom that "we’re not alone. Many people are helping us."

Dr Pham has been held since March last year in a prison near the capital and his conditions of detention are not known. He was arrested on 25 March for translating and posting online an article from the local US embassy website called "What is democracy?" He has also written some articles himself which have appeared on Vietnamese online forums. He was held in secret for four months, during which neither his family nor his lawyer were allowed to see him.

Five Vietnamese cyber-dissidents are in prison for their online activities. Two were sentenced last November and December to terms of four and 12 years in prison. A fifth is under house arrest.

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
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