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).

The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Vietnamese authorities to release French Journalist

French journalist arrested along with activists


New York, November 26, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release French activist and journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, who was arrested on November 17 in Ho Chi Minh City along with a group of five political activists associated with the pro-democracy Viet Tan party.

Thanh Van is an editorial member of the exile-run monthly Viet Nam Dan Chu (Vietnam Democracy) and a contributor to the Japan- and U.S.-based Chan Troi Moi radio program, which is regularly broadcast on shortwave radio to Vietnam. She was arrested by security officials at a private residence in Ho Chi Minh City, according to a statement released by the Viet Tan party. Thanh Van resides in Paris.

She and four other activists were initially held at Saigon’s public security office. The whereabouts of a fifth activist, U.S. citizen Nguyen Quoc Quan, is currently unknown. According to a source associated with the Viet Tan party who spoke with CPJ, Thanh Van and the four others have since been moved to Saigon’s main detention center.

The Vietnamese authorities had, despite holding her for more than 48 hours, failed to contact the French Embassy about her status and whereabouts. It was unclear if she or any of the other detained activists have been charged with any specific crime. At the time of her arrest, Thanh Van was meeting with local democracy activists to discuss nonviolent democratic movements—a theme she frequently reported on during her radio programs, according to the CPJ source.

“We condemn the arrest of journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and her colleagues,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We are particularly concerned because this process thus far has taken place without any visible legal basis.”

Thanh Van’s arrest marks the latest in a growing government crackdown against Vietnam’s fledgling pro-democracy movement. Earlier this year scores of activists, including prominent freedom of expression defenders, were arrested and charged with anti-state crimes. The roundup commenced in March, only weeks after Vietnam successfully acceded to the World Trade Organization.

On April 21, authorities arrested Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, an award-winning journalist and writer who was charged with violating Article 88 of the criminal code, which prohibits the dissemination of information that authorities deem harmful to the state. Thuy had posted a number of Internet essays calling for greater democracy, according to people familiar with her writings.

Vietnam contains acute diarrhea outbreaks

HANOI, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) — Vietnam has basically contained an acute diarrhea after it has hit the country for over one month, local newspaper Labor on Tuesday quoted Vietnamese Deputy Health Minister Trinh Quan Huan as saying.

    The number of new infection cases admitted to hospitals sharply decreased last weekend. Only 12 patients, including a cholera one, were admitted to the Tropical Disease Hospital and four to the Bach Mai hospital in capital Hanoi.

    To eliminate the disease, Vietnam has taken drastic measures, including monitoring food safety, ensuring environmental hygiene and intensifying publicity on acute diarrhea, especially in food-hit localities.

    Acute diarrhea has affected over 1,800 people in Vietnam since Oct. 23. Of the patients, 267 have been tested positive to cholera virus, according to the ministry.

EU and Vietnam talk of new partnership

HANOI: The European Union and Vietnam opened talks on Monday on an agreement covering everything from trade and human rights to climate change and epidemics.

Officials said the pact would allow an expansion in economic ties between the 27-member EU and Hanoi and it would precede a future free trade agreement between the EU and the Association of South East Asian Nations. Communist-ruled Vietnam is one of 10 ASEAN members. The EU was Hanoi’s largest trading partner, accounting for 17 percent of all foreign trade in 2006.

A joint statement officially opening negotiations for the “Partnership and Cooperation Agreement” between the EU and Vietnam did not say when it was expected to be finalised.

Visiting European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung appeared together to make statements to the media, but they did not take questions.

Dung said the two sides wanted to increase trade to $15 billion by 2010 from about $13 billion in 2006. In a statement before his visit Barroso said, “The time has now come to establish a closer political partnership between the EU and Vietnam, enabling us to tackle more effectively some common global challenges”.

He said these included climate change, managing increasing global competition, migration, fighting poverty, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and countering international terrorism.

Barroso is visiting several Asian countries and on Tuesday he travels to China for a China-EU summit and then India. reuters