Reporters without borders and Nguen Thi Thanh Van’s family voice fears for french journalist held in Vietnam

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 – which broadcasts on medium wave to Vietnam.

Chinese police detain two suspects over trafficking Vietnamese babies

NANNING, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) — Chinese police have detained a Vietnamese woman and a Chinese man who allegedly smuggled four babies from Vietnam into China, local police said Thursday.

The woman was caught holding two babies in arms on the China-Vietnam border in Dongxing City of southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Tuesday night, when she illegally entered Chinese territory across a river. The woman seemed not to be the mother judging from her appearance, a spokesman with the Dongxing police said.

Police questioned the 53-year-old woman surnamed Pham from Mong Cai City of northeast Vietnam’s Quang Ninh Province, and she confessed that she had planned to sell the two babies aged below two months to a man surnamed Ruan from south China’s Guangdong Province, the spokesman said.

Pham also confessed that she has smuggled four babies on three separate occasions into China this month.

Ruan was later captured in a makeshift shed in Dongxing, which neighbors Mong Cai.

The two babies are now being attended by the Dongxing Municipa lObstetric and Gynaecology Hospital, the spokesman said.

The case is being further investigated, he added.

Editor: Jiang Yuxia

Czech labour shortage forces Skoda to recruit workers from Vietnam

Skoda has begun to recruit workers from Vietnam for its factories in the Czech Republic as it struggles with a labour shortage.

The Czech carmaker is having to search further afield for employees amid increased migration of Eastern European workers and a booming domestic automotive industry.

Skoda, which is owned by VW, has used an employment agency to recruit several hundred workers from Vietnam, whom it regards as disciplined and attentive to detail.

A spokesman said: “We have a shortage of labour so we are using employment agencies to bring in staff. Vietnam is one of the areas we are bringing people from. We would rather find people close to home and it is a long way for them to come, but until we can find the right people nearer home this is what we will have to do.”

It is not the first time that workers from Vietnam have moved to the Czech Republic. When the country was under communist rule as Czechoslovakia, Vietnam, also under communist control, and Cuba sent workers in return for arms and heavy engineering goods.

Many stayed in Czechoslovakia after the overthrow of communism in 1989 and set up small businesses. Now the Vietnamese are the third-largest immigrant group in the Czech Republic, behind Ukrainians and Slovaks.

Skoda, which has been steadily repositioning itself in the car market as more of a value brand, is one of the Czech Republic’s biggest employers. It has more than 27,000 workers in its three factories.

The open-borders policy of the European Union means that it is suffering recruitment problems. Many Czech workers have left for better paid jobs in Western Europe. Additionally, those from the neighbouring countries of Poland and Slovakia, which traditionally have made up the majority of foreign workers in the Czech car industry, are also choosing to go further or to take jobs in their own growing automotive industries.

The Czech Republic’s automotive industry employs more than 120,000 people, an increase of 40 per cent on 15 years ago. A number of Western carmakers have built factories in the country in recent years because of its lower labour costs and its central location in Europe.

Skoda’s own production, which includes some output from a factory in China, is set to exceed 640,000 vehicles this year. In 1994, the Czech company, which is more than 100 years old, produced only 173,000 vehicles. The carmaker believes that it can make one million cars in the forseeable future.

The Czech Republic is trying to make it easier for more migrant workers to settle in the country so that it can maintain a decent labour pool. It intends to issue green cards for workers outside the European Union that will combine rights for residency and work permits.

Vietnam’s emerging automotive industry and its broader economy are being closely watched for evidence that the country could be the next China in terms of rapid industrial growth. This year it became the 150th member of the World Trade Organisation. Its car industry is still young because traditionally Vietnam imported virtually all of its vehicles from communist Eastern Europe.

However, Japanese carmakers, such as Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi, began to move into the country in the mid-1990s, producing cars in partnership with Vietnamese businesses.

Vietnamese strike at Nike plant

Thousands of workers have gone on strike at a Vietnamese plant that makes shoes for Nike, demanding higher pay.

Workers, who produce about 10% of the 75 million pairs of shoes made for Nike in Vietnam annually, want more pay, bonuses and cost of living allowances.

Strikes have become more common in Vietnam, as inflation – now at 9.5% – has risen.

The average monthly salary at the South Korean-owned plant is $62, about 20% more than the minimum wage.

Rising prices

The plant in Dong Nai, near Ho Chi Minh city, employs some 14,000 people.

“Given the fact that inflation is so high now, it is hard to say they are being too demanding,” said Kieu Minh Sinh, an official with Dong Nai Provincial Trade Union.

Rising inflation and growing industrial unrest has pushed the Vietnamese government to raise the minimum wage.

Last year, the government increased the minimum wage for workers at foreign firms by 25%.

The government has said it will increase the minimum wage by about 12% in January.

Nike is aware of the strike and is encouraging workers and management to resolve their differences, a spokesman for Nike UK said. It is not clear how long the strike will continue for.

“There is a strike at the factory, one of several factories in Vietnam that produce Nike footwear,” he said.

“All our contract factories are required to comply with Nike company standards regarding working conditions and with local laws and regulations,” he added.

Officials at Tae Kwang, the South Korean company that runs the factory, declined to comment when they were contacted by the Associated Press news agency.

Vietnam caught between repression and reform

By Shawn W Crispin –

Vietnam’s ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy groups has entered a volatile phase with the recent imprisonment of a group of foreign nationals, an unexpected move that has strained bilateral relations with former battlefield adversary and present pivotal trade and investment partner the United States.

On November 17, Vietnamese police arrested and detained a group of six pro-democracy activists affiliated with the unsanctioned pro-democracy Viet Tan party. The ethnic Vietnamese activists, among them a US national mathematics researcher, a French national journalist and a Thai citizen, were arrested while handing our fliers that explained and promoted non-violent struggle for democratic change.

The government has through the state-controlled media acknowledged jailing some, though not all, of the activists. In a clumsy attempt to deflect US criticism, communist propagandists manipulated images on the website of state mouthpiece newspaper Sai Gon Giai Phong of detained US national Nguyen Quoc Quan, which were initially published with him wearing prison garb but hours later were replaced with images of him in a white t-shirt. Subsequent articles listed Quan’s nationality as “unknown”.

The authorities have simultaneously attempted to paint the pro-democracy Viet Tan party, which has members both inside and outside of Vietnam, as a terrorist organization bent on stirring violence and unrest – charges the party has firmly denied in a public statement. The only evidence offered to substantiate the terrorism claims has been the arrest of two ethnic Vietnamese Americans – six days after the group of Viet Tan activists were first detained – who were charged with trying to enter Vietnam with a firearm. Viet Tan has denied any association with the two suspects.

None of the Communist Party-led government’s official obfuscation about the arrests or trumped up charges against the Viet Tan party has washed with the US embassy in Hanoi, according to a source familiar with the situation. US Deputy Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Scott Marciel recently cancelled a planned visit to Vietnam in protest against the detentions. It’s still unclear whether Washington would consider imposing some sort of economic sanctions if the US national activists are held indefinitely.

The George W Bush administration earlier this year shifted its previous conciliatory policy towards a more critical assessment. Bush met at the White House with Viet Tan’s senior leadership and thereafter scolded Vietnamese president Nguyen Minh Triet over the country’s abysmal rights record during his high profile visit to Washington – which was billed as a diplomatic victory in the state-controlled media.

Half-hearted reformer
Now the sudden internationalization of the Communist Party’s sustained crackdown on Vietnam’s small but determined pro-democracy movement has put nominal national leader prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung on the horns of a potentially damaging dilemma.

Many had hoped upon Dung’s appointment to the premiership in April 2006 that his government would take a more enlightened approach towards democratic rights and civil liberties. Breaking with the post-revolutionary Ho Chi Minh era – where governments have been run more by faceless committees than led by charismatic leaders – Dung has portrayed himself as a reformer and put his personal stamp of authority on his new-generation administration.

He has leveraged that authority to push for more economic and financial reforms, including streamlining rules and regulations related to foreign trade and investment in line with the country’s new liberalization commitments as a full-fledged member of the World Trade Organization. Dung has also angled to boost the country’s global image by presenting himself as the animated leader of a new Vietnam, breaking with the stiff tradition of his Communist Party predecessors.

In that direction, he is also spearheading some soul-searching inside the 77-year-old Communist Party, as its cadres aim to attract more foreign capital and redefine their role in the ongoing transition from communism to capitalism. That reportedly even includes an internal debate over whether the party should consider a name change. Unconfirmed media reports have party cadres mulling either the “Labor Party” or “People’s Party” as possible new monikers.

Redefining the party is clearly a politically delicate and complicated exercise, particularly as so much of the monolithic regime’s current legitimacy relies upon its revolutionary past. Vietnam’s capitalist revolution, in contradiction to the party’s traditional egalitarian philosophy, has caused widespread social and economic dislocation and rapid enrichment of party cadres and their affiliated business interests.

Even with rapid economic growth, it’s proving an increasingly difficult social and economic balance for the regime to maintain. For instance, last year the government was rocked by widespread and sometimes violent strikes by factory workers who demanded a rise in the national minimum wage. In an unusual concession to popular demands, the government eventually relented to the workers’ demands, though to the chagrin of the foreign factory owners who located in Vietnam for the cheap wages.

To be sure, under Dung’s watch there have been certain signs of political loosening – albeit still on the party’s own terms and conditions. Earlier this year, Dung fielded questions from the general public over an on-line chat forum. This month he introduced for the first time a similar question and answer session at the traditionally opaque National Assembly of Vietnam, the country’s Communist Party-appointed parliament.

Education Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan was grilled by citizen questions over his policies, which had recently resulted in dropping graduation rates in many provinces, while Finance Minister Vu Vanh Ninh was peppered by even harsher questions about a national e-government project that Dung shuttered because of misuse of funds, according to a recent Asia Foundation report.

At the same time, Dung’s government, and perhaps more importantly the Communist Party’s politburo, continues to treat Vietnam’s budding pro-democracy movement as a security threat rather than a potential reform opportunity. Underscoring the regime’s squeamishness, the head of public security was elevated to the politburo’s second most powerful position at this year’s Communist Party Congress, who now ranks above both the prime minister and president and only behind the party’s general secretary.

That reaffirmed the Communist Party’s strong commitment to the police state it first institutionalized over 30 years ago to ferret out suspected supporters of the former US-backed South Vietnam regime and has since deployed to suppress any hint of political opposition to its rule. What’s unclear is whether those tough tactics will work the same against a new generation of politically minded Vietnamese that are not as easily spun by the bogey of Western-influenced ideas and ideals.

Viet Tan leader Duy Hoang, himself a US citizen, says that the government’s recent repressive measures targeting pro-democracy groups like his have only encouraged more people to join his party’s non-violent struggle for democratic change, which he likens to the civil disobedience campaign led by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning democratic opposition in Myanmar. If the Vietnamese authorities continue to hold US citizens as part of their crackdown on democracy, Washington could soon be persuaded to view the situation similarly.

Report: Vietnam investigates 6 democracy activists for terrorism

International Herald Tribune

Report: Vietnam investigates 6 democracy activists for terrorism

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


HANOI, Vietnam: Police seized pro-democracy leaflets during the arrest of six dissidents earlier this month, and they were investigating the group for terrorism, state media reported Wednesday.

Three of the detainees were members of Viet Tan, a California-based pro-democracy group that says it promotes nonviolent change but that Vietnamese authorities consider a terrorist organization.

The six detainees included a U.S. citizen, a French citizen and a Thai national, all of Vietnamese descent, as well as two Vietnamese citizens. Viet Tan said the sixth person was also a U.S. citizen, but Vietnamese authorities said his nationality was unclear.

The U.S. Embassy said it was also investigating the incident and that it has requested meetings with any U.S. citizens who were arrested.

Police arrested the six on Nov. 17 while they were stuffing pro-democracy fliers into envelopes at a home in Ho Chi Minh City, Wednesday’s Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper said, citing a police report.

The paper said the police report offered no evidence that the group was engaged in violence, and authorities have not specified why they believe the group was promoting terrorism.

Police seized nearly 7,000 leaflets, 8,000 envelopes, 3,775 postage stamps and 1,000 stickers with Viet Tan’s logo, the newspaper report said. The leaflets also publicized a radio broadcast the group produced called “Radio New Horizon: A Voice For Vietnam’s Democracy.”

Vietnamese authorities, who don’t tolerate challenges to communist rule, have said repeatedly in the past that they regard the group as a terrorist organization bent on overthrowing the government of Vietnam.

“Since early 2007, Viet Tan continues to send its members into the country legally and illegally to work with associates inside Vietnam to distribute leaflets, incite demonstrations and violence, disturb security, and cause political instability,” the newspaper quoted the police report as saying.

On Wednesday, Viet Tan e-mailed to the media copies of the flier it said the six detainees had circulated. The flier repeatedly said the organization promoted “nonviolent struggle.”

The group said it has members around the world, including underground in Vietnam.

Last week, the Vietnamese government confirmed the arrests of U.S. citizen Truong Leon, French citizen Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and Thai national Somsak Khunmi on Nov. 17, but declined to say what crimes they committed.

Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform, said the detainees were discussing ways to promote peaceful democratic change.

In the past 15 months, Vietnam has arrested more than 40 democracy activists, opposition party members and labor union leaders, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

On Tuesday, Vietnam reduced the sentences of two human rights attorneys who were convicted earlier this year of distributing anti-government propaganda.

Nguyen Van Dai’s sentence was reduced from five years to four, and Le Thi Cong Nhan’s sentence was cut from four years to three.

Both will have to serve several years of probation after their release.

Human Rights Watch said the pair should be set free immediately. “No one should be imprisoned for peaceful expression of their views,” it said in a statement.

Chickens die en mass in S Vietnam

HANOI, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) — Some 6,400 chickens in Vietnam’s southern Ba Ria Vung Tau province have died of unidentified causes since early this month, while the country’s poultry flock is being hit by bird flu and Marek disease.

Specimens from the dead poultry of two farms in the province’s Tan Thanh districts are being tested, local newspaper Pioneer reported Wednesday.

Southern Tien Giang province reported that Marek, a highly contagious viral neoplastic disease in chickens caused by a herpes virus, has recently affected 120,000 chickens, of which 40,000 died, in the locality.

Now, bird flu is hitting northern Cao Bang province, and central Quang Tri province, according to the Department of Animal Health under the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Bird flu outbreaks in Vietnam, starting in December 2003, have killed and led to the forced culling of dozens of millions of fowls in the country.
Editor: Gao Ying

Vietnam officially chosen to host Miss Universe 2008

HANOI, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) — Vietnam has been officially chosen to host the 57th Miss Universe in central Nha Trang city of Khanh Hoa province next July, local newspaper Youth reported Wednesday.

The contract on holding the event was signed Tuesday between the Vietnamese main partner, the Hoan Vu company, and the pageant’s organizer under the witness of representatives of the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the provincial People’s Committee, Miss Universe 2007 Riyo Mori and Miss Vietnam 2007 Mai Phuong Thuy.

The event’s final round will be organized at the Diamond Bay Resort in the coastal city.

U.S. billionaire Donald Triumph, owner of Miss Universe contests, will attend the final of Miss Universe 2008.

To host the event, Vietnam is estimated to spend some 15 million U.S. dollars covering the pageant’s royalty, and manpower and infrastructure expenses.

Vietnam will focus on constructing a 7,500-seat stage, upgrading the Cam Ranh airport and some hotels in Khanh Hoa, and beautifying the sea city.

Editor: Du Guodong

Vietnam dissidents defiant in court despite jail term reductions

HANOI (AFP) — A Vietnamese court on Tuesday cut the jail terms of two pro-democracy activists in an unusually charged appeal hearing in which the dissidents remained defiant against the one-party communist state.

The Hanoi court reduced the prison sentence of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, 38, from five years to four, and the sentence of his 28-year-old colleague Le Thi Cong Nhan from four years to three.

But it upheld their May convictions under article 88 of spreading propaganda against the state, charges the two non-violent political activists rejected in their final words to the People’s Supreme Court appeal hearing.

“I reject both trials because they never would have brought a fair and objective sentence for me,” said Dai, flanked by two police officers. “The reason for my struggle is the lack of democracy and human rights in Vietnam.”

Nhan also openly challenged the court, in a hearing that was watched via closed circuit television by foreign media and diplomats, calmly telling the panel that it was “still on the wrong path.”

“Even if I had been freed today, it would have been like being moved from a small to a big prison,” she said. “I would continue to express my opinion.”

The two were jailed in May for their Internet writings, interviews with foreign media, and meetings they held with university students to discuss democracy. They were arrested in March as part of a wider crackdown.

Unlike in previous such trials, the lawyers at times adopted an openly political tone, which led judges to repeatedly cut them off.

One of the defence lawyers, Dang Trong Dung, argued that both his clients had only exercised their rights to free speech, as guaranteed by the Vietnamese constitution and under international law.

“According to international conventions that Vietnam has signed or is a member to, and which have been approved by the National Assembly, citizens have the right to express their views freely and independently,” he said.

“Vietnam has become a member of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (from January 2008). Therefore, Vietnam should respect the international conventions that it has signed.”

He added that “it is necessary to reconsider article 88. It is necessary to redefine the notion of propaganda.”

Another defence lawyer, Dam Van Hieu, said: “Dai’s words about democracy and pluralism are his personal views… No law in the world imposes punishment for personal views which are expressed peacefully.”

Vietnam, a one-party state, says it does not punish anyone for their political opinions and only prosecutes criminals for breaking the law.

Tran Lam, another defence lawyer, said: “Vietnamese leaders on overseas trips have often said there are no political courts. But here, when we are talking about human rights and democracy, we are in a political court.”

Dai’s lawyer Bui Quang Nghiem also argued article 88 was unconstitutional.

“If a law runs counter to reality and international conventions, courage is needed to change or modify it,” he said. “Dai and Nhan are innocent, and I ask for their freedom.”

But at the end of the six-hour hearing, the court upheld the convictions.

The judges accepted the prosecutors’ recommendation of a one-year term cut for each defendant, citing their clean criminal records and the fact that their activism had been discovered before causing serious harm to the state.

Dai faces an additional four years under house arrest after his release from prison, and Nhan three years.

Outside the closely policed court building, Nhan’s mother told AFP: “I don’t agree with the verdict of this court. My daughter is a patriot. She has done everything to make this country better.”

Vietnam Sees More Abortions Than Live Births in Ho Chi Minh City

by Steven Ertelt

Hanoi, Vietnam ( — The number of abortions has declined in Ho Chi Minh City, but the large Asian city still sees more abortions there than live births. Vietnam has long had one of the highest abortion rates in both Asia and the world and the United Nations recently said sex-selection abortions are causing significant gender gaps.

The VietNamNet Bridge news service reports that the number of abortions in HCM City in 2006 fell by 30% from 2000, with 103,972 abortions.

Doctor Duong Phuong Mai, who heads the family planning department at Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital, said there were 19,000 abortions there from January to September 2007 and about the same number of births. That’s something that has been going on for years.

Despite the decline, the city failed to meet the goals the national government has set — of reducing abortions by 50 percent.

Part of the reason abortions are so high in the city VietNamNet Bridge reports is that the number of abortions on teenagers is rising.

According to figures the city government sent to national officials, HCM City hopes to reduce abortions there by 10 percent annually from now until 2010.

In October, the UN issued a new report praising the population control efforts in Vietnam but acknowledged the devastating effects the program has had there.

The new report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) praises Vietnam for lowering its fertility rate to 2.09 children per woman, which is just below the level of replacement.

However, the pro-abortion agency warns that the sex ratio is becoming skewed in the Asian nation just as it is in India and China.

According to UNFPA, the sex ratio at birth (the number of boys born to every 100 girls) is becoming imbalanced. Part of the reason for this is the cultural preference for boys and the nation’s limit of only two children per family.

This has led to an incidence of sex-selection abortions and infanticides that are seen in other Asian countries where social norms are different from the industrialized West. It also leads to sex trafficking, child abandonment, and a society where men can’t find partners to marry and start families of their own.

The population levels have also stabilized in part because Vietnam has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. It is also experiencing high rates of infertility among women there, which is another sign of the damage abortion causes women.

The number of abortions in the communist nation is staggeringly high and government figures show one woman dies every five days from abortions there.

According to national health statistics, 760,000 abortions were carried out in 1989, 1.3 million in 1994 and 1.4 million in 1995. In 1999, the pro-abortion Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, reported that Vietnam had the highest abortion rate of any nation.