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.

Vietnam: Democracy Activists Should Be Released

Authorities Assault Free Speech by Keeping Two Rights Activists in Prison

(New York, November 28, 2007) – The Vietnamese government should immediately and unconditionally release two human rights lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, whose prison sentences were reduced after an appeals court hearing in Hanoi today, Human Rights Watch said.

Nguyen Van Dai, 38, founder of the Vietnam Committee for Human Rights, and Le Thi Cong Nhan, 28, an advocate for multiparty democracy, were arrested in March. In a trial in May, Dai and Nhan were sentenced to five and four years imprisonment, respectively, on charges of disseminating propaganda against the government under article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code.

“No one should be imprisoned for peaceful political expression of their views,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Vietnam’s crackdown on dissent shows no sign of letting up. Instead, the authorities continue to arrest and imprison people for simply exercising their freedom of speech and advocating for democratic reforms.”

Dai, a recipient this year of the Hellman/Hammett prize for writers facing political persecution, had conducted human rights training seminars in Hanoi, documented land rights grievances by rural petitioners, defended persecuted Christians, and helped launch a democracy newsletter. Nhan was spokeswoman for Dang Thang Tien Vietnam (Vietnam Progression Party), one of several opposition parties that surfaced during a brief period in 2006 when the Vietnamese government temporarily eased restrictions on freedom of expression.

Among the crimes listed in Dai and Nhan’s indictment, dated April 24, are: conducting workshops to “defame and spread disinformation” against the government; “misinterpreting” the state’s policies regarding labor unions in Vietnam; communicating through the internet with Vietnamese human rights organizations abroad; and “collecting and hoarding” books by Vietnamese dissidents and human rights activists, along with banned newsletters such as “Freedom and Democracy” and “Free Speech.”

In today’s hearing, the appeals court reduced each of their prison sentences by one year. However, upon release, Dai and Nhan will be placed under administrative probation, or house arrest, for another four years and three years, respectively.

“As a newly elected member of the UN Security Council, Vietnam should uphold its international obligations on human rights,” Richardson said. “Instead, the Vietnamese government is violating the basic rights of its own citizens.”

Lawyers for Dai and Nhan forcefully advocated for the right of citizens to peacefully express their opinions and argued against the constitutionality of article 88 of the penal code. Lawyer Bui Quang Nghiem told the court: “Criticism against the party and the leaders and about human rights cannot be considered propaganda against the socialist state. If a law runs counter to reality and international conventions, courage is needed to change or modify it. Dai and Nhan are innocent, and I ask for their freedom.”

In a particularly courageous step, Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh, released a public statement today defending her husband’s human rights work. She systematically detailed numerous procedural errors that took place during Dai’s detention, police investigation, and first instance trial. She also described violations of his civil rights as guaranteed by Vietnam’s Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a state party, and she called for suspension of article 88 and the immediate release of her husband.

Dai and Nhan are among more than 40 democracy activists, opposition party members, underground publishers, and labor union leaders who have been arrested in Vietnam during the last 15 months.

The Vietnamese government launched its crackdown on peaceful dissent in late 2006 after it secured membership in the World Trade Organization and was removed from the US government’s list of countries with the worst track records of violating the right to freedom of religion.

The most recent arrests took place earlier this month when 20 police officers raided a private home in Ho Chi Minh City, where a group of activists from the Viet Tan (Reform) Party were meeting. Police confiscated Viet Tan leaflets advocating peaceful democratic change and arrested six activists – including two Vietnamese citizens, a Vietnamese-French journalist, two Vietnamese-Americans, and a Thai national.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, international rights groups, and US and European diplomats in Hanoi have criticized Vietnam’s criminalization of peaceful dissent. The Vietnamese government has tried to justify this repression through vaguely worded national security provisions in Vietnam’s penal code such as article 88 (conducting anti-government propaganda), article 87 (undermining the policy of national unity), and article 258 (abusing democratic rights such as freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, association, and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State).