Vietnam police seize 8 tons of marijuana, arrest Chinese, Indonesian smugglers

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnamese authorities have seized marijuana worth US$90 million (€58.16 million) in the country’s biggest drugs haul, police said Thursday.

The 8 tons of marijuana was believed to be in transit to Canada via China, said Col. Nguyen Anh Tuan, director of the Ministry of Public Security’s Anti-Drug Department.

He said the marijuana was seized earlier this week on two trucks heading for the border with China. It had arrived in the port of Hai Phong in late April on a ship from Pakistan and was ultimately destined for Canada.

The drugs had been mixed in with a shipment of blue jeans, he said. “This is the biggest drug shipment we have ever seized,” Tuan said.

Four Chinese and an Indonesian have been arrested in connection with the smuggling and others were being sought, Tuan said. It’s unclear when the five will be put on trial.

Vietnam has one of the world’s toughest drug laws. Possessing, trading or trafficking 600 grams (1.3 pounds) of heroin or 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of opium is punishable by death or life in prison.

About 100 people are executed by firing squad in Vietnam each year.


Capital man freed after six months in Vietnamese jail

After six months in a Vietnamese prison, Sacramento-area pro-democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Quan is finally coming home this weekend, U.S. State Department officials said Tuesday.

Nguyen, an engineer from Elk Grove, was convicted of terrorism in Ho Chi Minh City on May 13, six months after being arrested for distributing pro-democracy leaflets. He was sentenced to six months with credit for time served, and ordered deported.

Nguyen, 54, is scheduled to be released May 17. He could be home in Elk Grove with his wife and two teenage sons by Sunday.

“We welcome the news that after six months in detention, American citizen Nguyen Quoc Quan was finally granted a trial,” said State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez.

Nguyen’s wife, Ngo Mai Huong, declared, “I’m on top of the world now! When I see him, I’m going hug him and then slap him and tell him don’t do that to me again.”

Ngo said she was up all night waiting for the verdict, and finally got a call at 4 a.m. from a U.S. consular official in Ho Chi Minh City.

The son of Ho Diep, one of Vietnam’s most famous singers of classic poetry, Nguyen fell in love with Ngo in 1989 after reading a poem she wrote called “Mother.”

Nguyen is a member of Viet Tan, the International Vietnamese Reform Party. Viet Tan has been labeled a terrorist organization by Vietnam.

Nguyen was distributing 7,000 leaflets promoting nonviolent protest in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and the movements that helped topple communism in Eastern Europe.

The two-page flier, entitled “Non-Violent Struggle: The Approach To Eradicate Dictatorship, Set The Stage for Democracy,” calls for widespread civil disobedience and urges protestors to “faithfully maintain the discipline of non-violence.”

The Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Nguyen was found guilty of terrorism under Article 84 of the Vietnam Penal Code.

“During the trial, Mr. Quan admitted to having participated in and supported terrorist activities initiated by U.S.-based Viet Tan group,” Nguyen The Cuong, press attache for the Vietnamese Embassy, wrote in an e-mail to The Bee.

“The court ordered Mr. Quan be deported from Vietnam after the completion of the jail term, which also counts his detention since November 2007.”

The State Department’s Vasquez said, “We are not aware of any information to support the charges of ‘terrorism’ against him.”

Michael Orona, a State Department deputy director who oversees human rights, said Nguyen “shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.”

Orona credited Nguyen’s pending release to a team effort by U.S. diplomatic officials and elected representatives. California’s congressional delegation and the California Legislature, led by Sacramento Assemblyman Dave Jones, lobbied hard for Nguyen’s release.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer spoke with Vietnamese Ambassador Le Cong Phung in Washington Tuesday and was told Nguyen had been convicted of carrying false papers and terrorism, but would be released Saturday.

“Senator Boxer strongly challenged that he had committed any act of terrorism by simply carrying pro-democracy leaflets,” said Natalie Ravitz, Boxer’s communications director. “We’ve asked they reconsider the terrorism charge, but we’re happy he’s going to be home with his family.”

Duy Hoang, a UC Davis graduate working for Viet Tan in Washington, D.C., called Nguyen’s scheduled release “awesome news.”

“But promoting democracy through nonviolent means shouldn’t be a crime,” Huong said. “It means human rights are still lacking in Vietnam, and it takes people such as Dr. Quan to really risk their lives to promote freedom.”

Two Vietnamese journalists under arrest, US colleague under house arrest

Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned the arrest in Hanoi yesterday of two Vietnamese journalists, accused of “misuse of power”. It also spoke out against the house arrest of US journalist of Vietnamese origin, Le Hong Thien, who was in the country to cover the Olympic torch relay.

Nguyen Van Hai of the newspaper Tuoi Tre and Nguyen Viet Chen of the newspaper Thanh Nien, who at the end of 2005 investigated a major official corruption case, were arrested for “misuse of power and authority”. Several local media said they were being held in preventive detention for a period of four months. The corruption case, which was widely covered by the national press, resulted in the conviction of around a dozen political figures, including the transport minister. The managements of the two newspapers hit by arrests were at a loss to explain the reaction of the authorities. “Of the around one hundred papers which carried articles on this case, the authorities have only made charges involving two,” they said.

US journalist Le Hong Thien (pen-name: Tran Huu Thien), who came to Ho Chi Minh City on 27 April to cover the Olympic torch relay, was arrested at the beginning of May. His US passport has been confiscated and he has been placed under house arrest at his brother’s home. For the last two weeks, he has been questioned on a daily basis. Le Hong Thien is the editor of the US-published magazine Gia Dinh, a reporter on the Viet Times Weekly, and contributor to Radio New Horizon, which broadcasts inside Vietnam.

U.N. Buddhist event in Vietnam remembers disaster victims | Reuters

HANOI (Reuters) – Victims of China’s earthquake and Myanmar’s cyclone were remembered on Wednesday when Buddhists opened a rare international religious event in Vietnam, whose critics accuse the government of abusing freedom of worship.

Hundreds of monks in yellow, maroon and saffron robes mixed with government officials and diplomats in suits in a Hanoi convention centre for the week-long U.N. Vesak Day, an annual celebration of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.

“In the shadow of these enormous tragedies, the Buddha’s message of peace, compassion and love for all living beings brings added urgency,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message read to the conference, mentioning the devastation of Cyclone Nargis and the earthquake in southwestern China.

The event held since 1999 has drawn more than 1,000 delegates to Hanoi, but Buddhists opposed to state-sanctioned religion in Vietnam asked the U.N. head to call for the release of two prominent monks living under restrictions in their pagodas.

“We are deeply concerned that Vietnam is exploiting U.N. Vesak Day for political ends,” the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBVC), which is outlawed in the Communist Party-ruled Southeast Asian country, said in a statement.

The two monks are UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and his deputy Thich Quang Do.

In his speech at the opening ceremony, Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet said that he hoped Vesak would improve understanding, “help build a good society, a Nirvana in the real life, to contribute to preventing conflicts and neutralizing wars”.


A U.S. government panel and U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) this month recommended that the U.S. State Department reinstate Vietnam on its list of “countries of particular concern” for the worst abusers of religious rights.

Western diplomats and rights group say reports persist from remote areas especially of harassment and imprisonment of followers of various religions.

The government rejects the accusations and says its removal from the U.S. list in November 2006 and hosting Vesak demonstrates its respect for religious practices. Among religions, Buddhism has the most influence on Vietnamese society and its 85 million people.

Vietnam is a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council for 2008-2009 and HRW said the country “should be exemplary, not among the worst” in respecting religious belief and worship.

A government spokesman says “nobody is detained for political views or religion and there are only cases where legal violators are dealt with in compliance with the law”.

(Reporting by Grant McCool; Editing by Valerie Lee)
U.N. Buddhist event in Vietnam remembers disaster victims | U.S. | Reuters

Vietnam media decry reporters’ arrests

By BEN STOCKING – 14 May 2008

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — The arrests of two Vietnamese reporters for their coverage of a bribery, gambling and corruption scandal have led to a highly unusual confrontation between Vietnam’s Communist government and the country’s state-controlled newspapers.

“Honest journalists must be freed,” blared a bold headline in Wednesday’s Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper, where one of the reporters worked until he was jailed Monday.

Vietnamese newspapers are generally deferential to the government, which controls all of the nation’s media. But this week’s arrests unleashed a torrent of protests from journalists and bloggers, who said the detentions would discourage aggressive reporting on corruption, one of Vietnam’s most urgent problems.

Sparking their outrage were the arrests Monday of Nguyen Viet Chien of Thanh Nien and Nguyen Van Hai of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Authorities also arrested one police investigator and interrogated another who were accused of providing false information to the journalists.

The reporters are accused of “abuse of authority” for allegedly inaccurate reporting on a major corruption scandal that led to the resignation of the transportation minister in 2006.

Tuoi Tre published a story Wednesday saying it was inundated by phone calls, e-mails and letters from angry citizens protesting the government’s move — the most it had received in 33 years of publication.

The scandal, which erupted in 2005, led to the conviction of nine people, including several government officials. They were found guilty of illegally betting millions of dollars on European football matches and trying to bribe people to cover up their crime.

Authorities suspected they embezzled the money from a unit of the ministry that managed major road and bridge building projects. The unit received substantial funding from the World Bank and Japan.

Government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Authorities have not disclosed the specifics of the charges against the two journalists, or specified which aspects of their aggressive reporting were allegedly inaccurate.

In its report Wednesday, Tuoi Tre quoted a Hanoi attorney who said this week’s arrests had raised concerns that “journalists and newspapers will be less aggressive in their reporting of negative cases.”

Writers across Vietnam’s exploding blogosphere also condemned the arrests.

“There is no worse tragedy for a country than if nobody dares to speak out,” wrote journalist and blogger Vo Thi Hao. “What happened to freedom of the press?”

The Associated Press: Vietnam media decry reporters’ arrests

Feather-boa bicycle bandits invade Vietnams city streets

HANOI (AFP) — An exotic and colourful new urban species has invaded Vietnam’s crowded city streets, turning heads, slowing traffic and making a lot of noise — the feather-boa bicycle bandit.

No one is quite sure where, how or why the fashion craze started, but for the past few months, youths in the capital Hanoi have turned their bicycles into mobile works of art, the more extravagant the better.

Teens have beautified small two-wheelers with glitter and plastic flowers, giant silk butterflies and teddy bears, Christmas tinsel and paper parasols and, yes, feather boas, in an anything-goes creative arms race.

A boy rides on a colourfully decorated bicycle
along a street in downtown Hanoi

Youngsters have rigged blinking lights, MP3 players and batteries to the frames to blast techno and hip-hop down previously tranquil tree-lined streets, earning them both amused smiles and reproachful looks from their elders.

Motor-scooters and luxury cars may increasingly choke up the streets of Vietnam’s newly affluent cities, but the children of the boom have rediscovered the bicycle and are happily weaving and dodging through the traffic jams.

They travel in packs, a pillion passenger usually standing on the back of each bike, zooming past baffled adults who are left to ponder tail signs with messages like “Cool boy,” “Baby cute,” “Thanks, mom” and “Don’t ask”.

Their parents may have grown up in far tougher times, wearing anonymous office attire and olive army shirts, but for this generation, Korean hairstyles and earrings are as normal as multi-player video games.

“I don’t know where this fashion comes from,” shrugged Nguyen Van Thanh, 17, sitting on his bike outside an Internet parlour while his friends unloaded on virtual terrorists and read online Japanese manga cartoons.

“My friends like these bikes, so I bought one for fun.”

Thanh said he spent about 75 dollars on the bike, and another 50 dollars on decorations, including hundreds of purple ribbons which he painstakingly glued to the frame one recent day while skipping afternoon school classes.

“The most important thing is how you decorate it,” he explained. “It shows your personal style.”

Thanh said he bought a fake Chinese-made iPod, a battery and loudspeakers to underline his colourful street look with a robust audio presence, an ironic nod to bicycle salesmen’s recorded pitches for ice cream or mouse traps.

“It’s really cool when we have dozens of bikes and hang out and turn up the music,” he said. “We cruise around the city lakes. Everyone on the street looks at us. It’s fun. It’s cool. It’s fashion.”

Many foreigners agree, even as they struggle to interpret the new trend.

“It reminds me of rococo decorative architecture — but mobile and with a rockin’ sound system,” said resident Californian artist Bradford Edwards.

“I’ve seen lots of kitsch in Vietnam, but what I like about this is that it’s young, home-grown and wholesome. It’s third-generation kitsch, handed down from grandpa to dad to the kids, who’ve taken it and blended it with Western street culture, but with this heavy-glitter Vietnamese thing.”

Police in the communist country, somewhat slower to embrace the new fashion, have already thinned out the roving armies of bicycle bandits.

“One evening I was stopped by four police,” said one of Thanh’s friends.

“They broke my loudspeakers. It was bad. I had to install new ones. Now when we see police, we turn off the music and turn around. Then we turn it on again.”

AFP: Feather-boa bicycle bandits invade Vietnams city streets