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.”

U.S. to keep pressing Vietnam on jailed activists

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will use human rights talks with Vietnam in May to press for the release of political prisoners, including a U.S. citizen jailed last year, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia said on Wednesday.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill, who visited Hanoi this month, told a U.S. Senate hearing he had raised the jailings of Nguyen Quoc Quan of California and other democracy activists with Vietnamese authorities and would keep on pressing these and other cases.

“We will continue to push vigorously for a greater expansion of the civil and political rights of all Vietnamese citizens and for the release of all political prisoners,” Hill said in a written statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Hill testified before the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs a day after the State Department’s annual report on human rights conditions around the world said the situation in Vietnam in 2007 “remained unsatisfactory.”

“The government continued its crackdown on dissent, arresting a number of political activists and disrupting nascent opposition organizations, causing several political dissidents to flee the country,” that report said.

Hill told the subcommittee that economic and social reforms had given Vietnamese more freedom than they had enjoyed since 1975, “but there is no question that serious deficiencies remain in political and civil liberties.”

U.S. officials in May plan to conduct bilateral human rights talks in Hanoi — the third since the countries normalized relations in 1995, 20 years after the end of the Vietnam War — “without pulling any punches at all,” Hill said.

Do Hoang Diem, head of the pro-democracy group Viet Tan, whose activists were arrested last November, told the panel that Communist Vietnam’s nascent democracy movement was growing similar to those of Czechoslovakia and Poland decades earlier.

Describing last year’s arrests the worst crackdown in 20 years, he said: “Scores of democracy leaders have been imprisoned; others put under house arrest or subjected to constant harassment by the police.”

Vietnamese rights activists press Congress to act

A decade after the United States restored relations with Vietnam, lawmakers are being asked to confront the continuing denial of democratic rights in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Do Hoang Diem, chairman of Viet Tan (the Vietnam Reform Pary) appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs in a hearing today. He was joined by the wife of an imprisoned democratic activist in Vietnam, in jail for nearly four months.

““It is clear that what is happening in Vietnam is very unusual and significant,’’ he told the committee. “After more than 50 years in power, for the first time, the Vietnamese Communist Party is facing numerous and unprecedented challenges to its rule. The desire for real changes in Vietnam is stronger now than ever before. In response, the regime is using terror tactics to silence opposition, and severely violate human rights of not just political dissidents but also bloggers, farmers, workers, students or whoever dares to question the regime’s authority.’’

Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan was arrested along with five other democracy activists on Nov. 17, the party says, though the Vietnamese government did not acknowledge the arrest for 10 days. In December, after international protest, Vietnam released the other two democracy activists, one American, Leo Truong, and one French.

Since then, the party says, the U.S. Consulate in Saigon has been allowed to visit Dr. Quan once a month – but no family visits have been allowed.

His wife applied for visa to go to Vietnam to visit her husband in January. She was granted the visa but no permission to visit him. On Feb. 19, the Vietnamese Consulate revoked Mrs. Nguyen’s visa to Vietnam, one week before her scheduled trip.

On March 17, Quan will have been arrested for four months. “According to Vietnamese law, the authorities can keep Mr. Quan up to 4 months with out charges,’’ the party says. “This means the Vietnamese government has to make a decision soon what they want to do with Dr. Quan.’’

In Vietnam today, the Viet Tan party chairman said in prepared testimony for the committee, “There are two important developments: a surge in social discontent and an emboldened challenge to one-party rule.

““First, due to pervasive corruption, social discontent has risen to an unprecedented level,’’ he said. “ This is shown by widespread protests by farmers and labor unrest. For almost two years, farmers have staged numerous protests to demand fair compensation for land lost to corrupt officials.

“The most significant event was the 27 days protest in Saigon last summer by thousands of people before the police forcibly removed them,’’ he told the committee. “Workers also have walked out by the thousands in hundreds of strikes. More recently, even the mostly quite Catholic community joined in when thousands of followers protested from December 2007 into January of this year demanding the return of confiscated church properties in Hanoi.

“Meanwhile, the government continues to arbitrarily arrest those suspected of leading the protests and harassing others who participated,’’ he said. “However, so far this has failed to prevent new protests from taking place. ‘’

Likiening the democracy movement in Vietnam today to Czechoslovakia’s during the 1970s and Poland’s in the 1980s, he said, “For the first time, the movement no longer consists of individuals but organized groups with increasing popular support. Since 2006, dozens of political parties and grassroots associations have sprung up to challenge one-party rule. The government retaliated in February 2007 when they unleashed the worst crack down in the last 20 years.

“Scores of democracy leaders have been imprisoned; others put under house arrest or subjected to constant harassment by the police,’’ he said. “Although battered by the crack down, these groups are still hanging on and building coalitions from both overseas and inside Vietnam.

On Nov. 17, three members of his party, Viet Tan, were arrested for attempting to publicize non-violent principles and methods.

“Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan of California is still in prison today. Just last week, his wife’s visa to Vietnam was retracted despite her plea to visit her husband. Mrs. Nguyen Quoc Quan is at the hearing today as a vivid reminder that the Vietnamese people are still living under a brutal and dictatorial regime.

“It is clear that what is happening in Vietnam is very unusual and significant. After more than 50 years in power, for the first time, the Vietnamese Communist Party is facing numerous and unprecedented challenges to its rule. The desire for real changes in Vietnam is stronger now than ever before. In response, the regime is using terror tactics to silence opposition, and severely violate human rights of not just political dissidents but also bloggers, farmers, workers, students or whoever dares to question the regime’s authority.

“The democracy movement in Vietnam is facing a huge challenge: that is to survive the crackdown at all costs. And by overcoming the challenge, a tremendous opportunity also exists. If the movement can survive the next year or two, it will prove to the Vietnamese people that: 1) There is a viable alternative that can withstand the persecution and continues to challenge the regime, and 2) Fear can be overcome for the ruling dictatorship is not as invincible as it claims. And that will lead to a tipping point to accelerate real democratic changes.

“For the United States, an excellent opportunity also exists because: 1) A democratic Vietnam will be a much more reliable partner in the long run on both economic and security fronts, especially in dealing with China, and 2) A victory for democracy in Vietnam will have a tremendous impact on political openness and respect for human rights throughout the region.

“The choice for American policy is not whether to isolate or engage Vietnam, but how to pursue the bilateral relationship in the most constructive way” he said “To deepen America’s relationship with the Vietnamese people, I would like to offer three recommendations:

“1) Send the Vietnam Human Rights Act to President Bush for his signature. Last September, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Vietnam Human Rights Act (H.R. 3096). This result was warmly welcomed by the Vietnamese American community and democracy activists inside Vietnam. In a letter thanking the House, the Vietnam-based Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights stated:

“The fraternal and economic relationship between Vietnam and the United States is only sustainable and benefiting the peoples of the two countries when Vietnam is truly a democratic nation where human rights are respected.”

“We strongly urge you to pass this important legislation in the Senate.

“2) Speak out on the human rights abuses in Vietnam

“Your voices—in today’s hearing, through letters, speeches on the Senate floor, and in meetings with Hanoi officials—are important in demanding that the regime release all political prisoners and cease all forms of harassment against democracy activists and their families.

“3) ’Support democratic change

“As long as there is a one-party dictatorship, human rights abuses will persist. The solution to human rights is a democratic society where all stake-holders have a voice in the future of their country. While achieving democracy must be foremost an effort of the Vietnamese people, the international community can help by enabling the activities of independent NGOs, promoting an independent media and collaborating with grassroots organizations inside Vietnam.

“This is essential for empowering the Vietnamese people and building a civil society,” he said, “the critical foundation upon which a long lasting democracy can be achieved.

Vietnam releases detained US pro-democracy activist

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam has released a detained U.S. pro-democracy activist and sent him back to the United States, state television reported Tuesday.

Truong Van Ba, whose Americanized name is Leon Truong, was released from jail Tuesday afternoon and later departed from Ho Chi Minh City’s airport to the United States.

Vietnam state television showed Ba leaving jail and checking in at the airport.

Ba is a member of a U.S.-based pro-democracy group called Viet Tan, which Vietnam regards as a terrorist organization. Viet Tan says it supports nonviolent political change in Vietnam, and the U.S. government said it has seen no evidence that the group has terrorist aims.

“My father is on the plane right now and he’s coming back home,” Lauren Truong, Truong’s daughter, said by telephone from Washington, D.C. “I’m very happy and excited.”

Truong was heading to his home in Hawaii, his daughter said.

Truong is one of four U.S. citizens who were detained in Vietnam last month on unspecified charges.

Arrested with Truong on Nov. 17 was U.S. resident Nguyen Quoc Quan and a French citizen, a Thai national and two Vietnamese.

Quan is still being detained in Vietnam, where authorities say he entered the country with a forged Cambodian passport.

Two other U.S. citizens being held in Vietnam were detained at the Ho Chi Minh City airport on Nov. 23 after Vietnamese authorities alleged that they entered the country with a firearm in their luggage.

U.S. officials say they have seen no evidence that the two sets of arrests are related, and Viet Tan says the U.S. citizens arrested at the airport do not belong to their group.

While the Vietnamese government had not issued formal charges against the detainees, the Vietnamese media said Truong and Quan were being investigated for terrorism.

Speaking to reporters in Hanoi earlier Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak said he had seen no evidence linking them to terrorism and called on the Vietnamese government to explain their arrests.

“To date, we have received no formal notification of the charges against these individuals,” Michalak said.

Michalak also said he had seen no evidence that Viet Tan is a terrorist organization.

“If there is evidence that this group is engaged in terrorist activities, I would like to see it,” he said.

Arrested on Nov. 23 were U.S. citizens Nguyen Thi Thinh and Le Van Phan.

During an interview with U.S. Embassy officials, Thinh denied that there was a weapon in her luggage, Michalak said.

Viet Tan says it promotes peaceful democratic change in Vietnam. The group says the six people arrested in Ho Chi Minh City were circulating pamphlets promoting nonviolent political change.

“The United States will protest any actions taken to silence those engaged in the peaceful expression of political views,” Michalak said.

Vietnamese government officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the cases.

Meanwhile, Vietnam sentenced four members of an independent trade union to up to 4 1/2 years in prison for defaming the Communist state, a court official said Tuesday.

The four were members of the United Workers-Farmers Organization of Vietnam, an unapproved union working on behalf of farmers whose land has been taken by the government for development.

Those sentenced were Doan Van Dien, Tran Thi Le Hong, Doan Huy Chuong and Phung Quang Quyen, court official Nguyen Minh Toan said.

The four were convicted of arranging or participating in interviews with foreign radio stations in which they accused the government of repressing strikes and arresting demonstrators, he said.

They were convicted of “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe on the interests of the state,” Toan said.

Hanoi gives no “terrorism” arrests evidence: U.S.

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has not given the United States any evidence of reports in state-run media that four Vietnamese-Americans arrested last month were suspected of terrorism, the U.S. Ambassador said on Tuesday. Envoy Michael Michalak also said he had not yet been told of any charges against the four U.S. citizens, although consular officials have been allowed to visit them at a detention centre.

“If they are being detained for peaceful expression of their political views then we will protest vigorously and call for their release,” Michalak said at a media briefing.

Asked what impact the arrests would have on warm diplomatic relations between the former war enemies, Michalak said, “That will depend a lot on what the charges are and what happens to the people under detention.

“At this point we have to wait and see.”

The Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), a U.S.-based group opposed to communist rule, says six of its activists were arrested in mid-November and that police seized thousands of leaflets promoting peaceful democratic change.

Officials have confirmed they include two U.S. citizens, a French national, a Thai national and two Vietnamese citizens.

A Vietnam government spokesman last week confirmed state media reports that, separately on November 23, two other U.S. citizens were arrested. He said the two were arrested for smuggling arms into the country.

Official media has linked them with the group of six, but the Vietnam Reform Party rejects any connection, saying it does not support the use of violence in any circumstance.

Michalak said on Tuesday that Viet Tan is not on a U.S. list of terror organizations.

“We have seen no information that would support charges of terrorism that have been suggested by the local media,” the diplomat said.

The ruling Communist Party rejects calls for multi-party democracy and has arrested about 30 political activists this year. Some were put on trial for “spreading propaganda against the state”, a criminal offence in Vietnam.

US criticizes Vietnam for detention of citizens for terrorism

Vietnam’s conduct in the cases of four US citizens arrested in November, questioning Vietnamese accusations they had been involved in terrorism. “We have seen no information that would support the charges of terrorism against these individuals that have been suggested by the local media,” US Ambassador Michael Michalak said at a press conference. Two Vietnamese-born US citizens, Nguyen Quoc Quan and Leon Trung, were arrested by Vietnamese authorities on November 17. Both are members of a US anti-Communist group called the Viet Tan party, which says they were discussing strategies for peaceful democratic protests. The Vietnamese government accuse them of involvement in terrorism. No formal charges have been made public. Michalak said the US would protest “any actions taken to silence those engaged in the peaceful expression of political views.”The other two detained US citizens, Nguyen Thi Thinh and Le Van Phan, were arrested at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City on November 23, after a firearm and ammunition were reportedly found in their luggage. The Viet Tan party says Thinh and Phan have nothing to do with their group. Michalak also noted Vietnam’s failure to allow the four detainees to contact the US consulate within 48 hours, as mandated by the Vienna Convention. US consular officials were not permitted to visit any of the detainees until December 4. Elsewhere Tuesday, two Vietnamese courts in the southern province of Dong Nai sentenced seven activists to several years each in prison, on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.”Four of those sentenced were active in the United Workers-Farmers Organization, an independent labour union established in 2006. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have protested their arrests. The detentions present the United States with an obstacle to its cultivation of better relations with Vietnam, a country with which it enjoys increasing trade and diplomatic ties. The US is seeking Vietnamese cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts and on an American anti-nuclear proliferation initiative. Earlier Tuesday, Michalak gave a speech at the opening of a seminar on Vietnam’s upcoming role as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Vietnam will assume a seat on the Security Council in October, and will hold it for two years. “A nation does not participate on the security council solely to advance its own interests, but rather to serve the greater interests of the world community,” Michalak said. According to Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Mull, who visited Vietnam earlier this month, the US would like Vietnam to begin sending troops to participate in UN peace-keeping missions.

US Ambassador calls on Vietnam to explain charges against detained US citizens

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – The U.S. Ambassador said Tuesday he has seen no evidence linking four detained U.S. citizens to terrorism and called on the Vietnamese government to explain their arrests.
«To date, we have received no formal notification of the charges against these individuals,» Ambassador Michael Michalak told reporters at a media briefing.
«We have seen no information that would support the charges of terrorism against these individuals as suggested by the local media,» he added.
Vietnamese authorities arrested U.S. citizens Nguyen Quoc Quan and Truong Van Ba on Nov. 17 and Nguyen Thi Thinh and Le Van Phan on Nov. 23.
Quan and Ba were among a group of six people detained in Ho Chi Minh City who were circulating leaflets for Viet Tan, a California-based pro-democracy group that the Vietnamese government considers a terrorist organization.
«We have seen no evidence that Viet Tan is a terrorist organization,» Michalak said. «If there is evidence that this group is engaged in terrorist activities, I would like to see it.
The Vietnamese government has not announced formal charges against any of the detainees.
But according to Vietnamese media reports, authorities were investigating Quan and Ba for terrorism.
Thinh and Phan were detained after authorities allegedly found a weapon in their luggage when they arrived at the Ho Chi Minh City airport on Nov. 23, Vietnamese media reported.
A government spokesman has said the two were detained for allegedly bringing arms into the country.
During her interview with U.S. Embassy officials, Thinh denied that there was a weapon in her luggage, Michalak said.
Viet Tan has said the two cases are unrelated and have nothing to do with the group. Michalak said he has seen no evidence that shows the cases are linked.
Viet Tan says it promotes peaceful democratic change in Vietnam. The group says that the six people arrested in Ho Chi Minh City were circulating pamphlets promoting nonviolent political change.

«The United States will protest any actions taken to silence those engaged in the peaceful expression of political views,» Michalak said.
Vietnamese authorities have said that Quan entered Vietnam with a forged Cambodian passport, a violation of Vietnamese law. Vietnamese government officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the cases.
All of those arrested are of Vietnamese descent.
Quan and Ba were detained along with four others, including two Vietnamese citizens, a French citizen and a Thai national, all of whom are still in custody.
Ba’s Americanized name is Leon Truong and Thinh’s Americanized name is Helen Le.

Pro-democracy protest in front of Vietnamese embassy in US

About 300 Vietnamese-Americans protested in front of the Vietnamese embassy in Washington Monday against the arrest in Ho Chi Minh City of six political activists, including two US citizens.

Vietnamese police on November 17 arrested the six, including two Vietnamese-American members of the California-based Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform Party, which is banned in the Asian communist one-party state.

The protestors, some who travelled from California and Chicago, carried pro-democracy banners and flags and shouted slogans such as “It’s time for democracy in Vietnam” and “Free the peaceful democracy activists.”

The two arrested Americans — Nguyen Quoc Quan, a mathematician from Sacramento, and Leon Truong, a restaurateurfrom Honolulu — were among a group that circulated petitions produced by Viet Tan, a pro-democracy group promoting peaceful political change in Vietnam.

Families of the two met Monday with State Department officials, who “basically reaffirmed that it was a priority of the US government to seek their release,” said Duy Hoang, a US-based leader of Viet Tan.

The officials also said Washington had protested at the highest levels in Vietnam “that you can’t hold people for their peaceful expression of their beliefs,” he said.

Eleven US lawmakers meanwhile wrote to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, saying the arrests “violate the government of Vietnam’s promise to continue to improve its human rights record.”

Also arrested on November 17 were Frenchwoman Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, Thai citizen Somsak Khunmi and two Vietnamese nationals.

A small group of the protestors at the Vietnamese embassy later walked a mile (1.6 kilometers) to the Chinese embassy to defend Vietnam’s claim of sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea.

China last month set up a county-level Sansha administrative unit on Hainan island, which covers 2.6 million square kilometres (1 million square miles), mostly ocean, including the disputed isles.

The disputes stir strong passions in Vietnam, which remembers a millennium of Chinese rule and fought its last border war with China in 1979.

The two countries fought a brief naval battle in 1988 near one of the Spratly Island reefs, in which more than 50 Vietnamese sailors died.

The two communist-ruled countries normalized relations in 1991.

“Our demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy is not in support of the Vietnamese government but in support of the position of the nation of Vietnam in the claim of sovereignty over the islands,” Duy Hoang said.

Activist safe in Viet jail 

After two tearful, nerve-racking weeks, Ngo Mai Huong got some good news Tuesday: her husband, Sacramento engineer and pro-democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Quan, is alive and well in a Vietnamese prison.

Ngo said the U.S. State Department told her that her “husband is in jail with two other detainees, and right now he’s teaching one of them English.”

Nguyen, a 54-year-old father of two teenage boys, belongs to Viet Tan – the Vietnam Reform Party. The international pro-democracy movement has been labeled “a terrorist organization” by the Vietnamese government.

Nguyen left Elk Grove Nov. 9 to meet with democracy activists.

On Nov. 17, Nguyen and several other activists, including another Vietnamese American, “Leon” Truong Van Ba from Hawaii, were arrested around Ho Chi Minh City for allegedly distributing pro-democracy leaflets.

Ngo said local Vietnamese activists told her Nguyen had been arrested. She heard nothing for days, and didn’t know if he was dead or alive.

Nguyen and Truong’s arrests triggered protests from Vietnamese organizations in Sacramento and San Jose. Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to help secure their release.

“It’s extremely disappointing to learn that the Government of Vietnam has arrested United States citizens in Vietnam for reportedly having a peaceful discussion,” Lungren wrote to Rice.

On Nov. 30, the Vietnamese government’s official news agency reported arresting several Viet Tan sympathizers, “crushing the plots by a group of reactionaries in exile to sabotage the Vietnamese State.”

The government’s report alleged that Nguyen, “who used a fake passport under the name of Ly Seng for entry into Vietnam … was assigned by the Viet Tan to return to the country to conduct anti-government activities in association with other elements.”

Duy Hoang, a Viet Tan leader based in Washington, D.C., said Nguyen was indeed sent by Viet Tan to Vietnam “to promote methods of nonviolent struggle.”

“I was involved in the planning of his trip,” said Hoang, a 1993 UC Davis grad in economics and political science. “He and other Viet Tan members were in the process of distributing a two-page leaflet on what nonviolent struggle is and how it can be a tool to liberate the people.”

Nguyen was talking about nonviolent protests in Burma, Mahatma Gandhi’s march to the sea in India to protest the British salt tax, and the pro-democracy movements that transformed Eastern Europe, Hoang said.

The Vietnam News Agency reported that police confiscated 7,000 anti-government leaflets published by Viet Tan.

Hoang challenged the Vietnamese government to publish the leaflet in its newspaper “to let the people decide if this is in fact an act of terrorism.

“We view ourselves as patriots who want to bring about political change by mobilizing the power of the people through all forms of nonviolent struggle, from peaceful protest to civil disobedience,” he said.

Nguyen, a high school math teacher in Kieng Giang province, loved to teach, Ngo said. He escaped Vietnam by boat in 1981 and came to the United States. He got his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of North Carolina in 1987. Then he moved to San Jose, co-founded the Vietnamese Professionals Society and worked on developing a machine to translate English to Vietnamese, Hoang said.

The son of Ho Diep, one of Vietnam’s most famous singers of classic poetry, Nguyen read poetry in Vietnamese American magazines he found in San Jose. In 1989, he fell in love with a poem called “Mother”:

Like the falling rains from heaven

Mother is the star, the heaven and earth.

You are the protective arms from days of war.

Sweet lullabies echoing in the night.

You give me a life, lonely life.

The land tosses and turns in conflicts.

You give me a crib brimming with love

When I grow up my heart will belong to another.

Nguyen sent the author a book about Vietnam’s communist government and a liberation T-shirt, then flew to Chicago to visit her.

Two visits later, “we got married,” said the poem’s author, Ngo, now 47. “I love the way he thinks about our country and our community.”

They moved to Elk Grove in 2002 because Nguyen said Sacramento had good schools, Ngo said. “I’d worked as an accountant in San Jose, but he told me to stay home with the kids because this was a critical time in their lives.”

Nguyen got an information-technology job, and immersed himself in the study of peaceful protest, Ngo said. “He showed us movies about nonviolent struggle. He’s very skinny – I had to push him to eat all the time, and we’d fight about it – and my kids called him a small version of Gandhi.”

On Nov. 9, Nguyen told his family he was going to Thailand and would be back Nov. 29, Ngo said. “I know he works for democracy, but I don’t ask him much about the details.”

She called her husband an idealist who dreamed of returning to Vietnam to become the principal of a rural high school. “He’s very concerned about the educational system there.”

Nguyen is well-known in Vietnamese American circles, said Chan Tran, a host on Sacramento’s TNT Vietnamese radio, which hosted a rally for him last week.

“He’s a wonderful son of Vietnam,” Tran said. “He has a kind heart, he’s very smart, a wonderful storyteller who’s always cracking us up with jokes.”

Tran said Nguyen used to tell his friends: “If one day I’m going back to Vietnam and being arrested, then please don’t fight for just my freedom, but fight for the freedom of others. And in prison or outside, I will never stop fighting for the rights of the people of Vietnam to live in freedom and dignity.”

Jamie Goff, Lungren’s constituent services representative, said the State Department reported Tuesday that Nguyen “appears to be in good health and good spirits.” She’d heard nothing about Nguyen’s alleged fake passport or what, if anything, he’s been charged with. “We really want to know.”

Ngo said that even though she’s Buddhist, she’d love to have her husband home for Christmas. “My sons are very sad,” she said. “Monday night, I heard my oldest son Khoa, 15, tell his friend, ‘You are very lucky you have your dad at home – make sure you love him more.’ “

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.