VIETNAM: US dissident released amid human rights concerns

http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/connectasia/stories/s2116652.htm

Yesterday Vietnam deported a Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activist after his arrest last month with a group of other dissidents triggered protests from the United States. Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that Vietnam’s overall human rights record remained very poor, and has deteriorated in the last year.

Presenter – Adam Connors  Speaker – Michael Michalak, US Ambassador to Vietnam ; Dr Thong Nguyen, a central committee member of the Viet Tan in Australia; Luke Donnellan, Victorian MP.

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CONNORS: Two US citizens – Nguyen Quoc Quan, a mathematician from Sacramento, and Leon Truong , who operates a catering truck in Honolulu – along with a French journalist, a Thai and two locals, were apprehended in November while circulating petitions produced by Viet Tan, a pro-democracy group promoting peaceful political change in Communist Vietnam. This is just one of the cases that has aggravated the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. So gravely, in fact, that they recommended in May 2007 that Vietnam be re-designated as a ‘country of particular concern’ – a designation which is currently under review.

On Tuesday the US Ambassador, Michael Michalak, said Vietnamese authorities had not given them any evidence of media reports that the group were suspected of terrorism — or in fact any charge.

MICHALAK: We see no information that would support charges of terrorism against these individuals that have been suggested by the local media. We have said if they are detained, we will protest if they have been detained for peaceful expression of political views.

CONNORS: It comes as no surprise then that late Tuesday, the first of the Vietnamese-Americans was released and deported. Vietnam state television reports caterer and activist Leon Truong left Tuesday evening.

Dr Thong Nguyen, a central committee member of the Viet Tan in Australia, says the Vietnamese-American, French, Thai, and their supporters were merely preparing democratic discussion and materials.

NGUYEN: They were arrested while participating in dicussions about democracy with other activists, promoting peaceful democratic changes. They were preparing pamphlets about successful non-violent struggles around the world, and using these lessons to empower the Vietnamese people. This is exactly why the international community has been condemning the Vietnamese government — for arresting these activists and many others this year — for their peaceful democratic advocacy.

CONNORS: They are just a few of the dozens of Vietnamese activists arrested so far this year, most charged with ‘propaganda against the Socialist Republic’ – a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Then there’s Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly – put back in jail last year once President George W. Bush had finished his Vietnamese tour, and the Communist country had all but inked its World Trade Organisation deal.

An MP of the Australian state of Victoria, Luke Donnellan, made a trip to Vietnam himself in March 2006 to meet with Father Ly and noted some of the harsh measures employed against him and his church.

DONNELLAN: The fear in his own Catholic community that if they were seen to be attending his mass they would be seen as troublemakers. The fact that he has to change his email address every 24 hours, every 48 hours. The fact that his computer is monitored in an ongoing basis. He’s raided probably once a month, he loses all his computer equipment, all his printers. It’s obviously very difficult to be a Catholic priest in Vietnam at the moment who’s calling for religious and democratic rights, basic rights.

CONNORS: The commission last week stated to US Congress that these actions were indefensible, among limits set-out in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which Vietnam has ratified.

Welcoming the release of just one activist Tuesday, Australian Viet Tan representative Doctor Nguyen is calling for Vietnam to do more.

NGUYEN: We call on the international community to continue to pressure the Vietnamese authorities to release other peaceful activists as they did with Mr Leon Truong.

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