Reporters Without Borders has written to U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton in advance of her visit to Hanoi on 30 October urging the United States to press the Vietnamese authorities to release imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents and suggesting that it should raise the cases of Le Cong Dinh, Nguyen Tien Trung and Pham Minh Hoang in particular.
Le Cong Dinh, a cyber-dissident and well-known lawyer, was sentenced to five years in prison on January 20. Nguyen Tien Trung, a blogger and pro-democracy activist, is serving a seven-year jail sentence. Their jail terms are to be followed by three years of house arrest. Both were convicted of endangering national security and “organizing campaigns in collusion with foreign-based reactionary groups aimed at overthrowing the people’s government with the Internet’s help.”
Pham Minh Hoang, a blogger (www.pkquoc.multiply.com) with French and Vietnamese dual citizenship, was formally charged on 29 September after six weeks in detention, during which his family was without any news of him. He is also accused of activities aimed at overthrowing the government. His wife says the real reason for his arrest was his opposition to bauxite mining by a Chinese company in Vietnam’s central highlands and its impact on the environment. Other journalists and bloggers who have tried to cover this subject, such as Bui Thanh Hieu, have also been arrested.
The human rights situation is getting worse in the run-up to the Communist Party congress scheduled for early next year. Vietnam nonetheless agreed to reconcile economic development with respect for its citizens’ fundamental rights when it was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2006.
The government has been reinforcing its control over the media and Internet since last year and there has been an increase in cyber-attacks on websites critical of the government.
In her historic speech last January, Clinton very clearly affirmed U.S. support for online freedom of speech and opinion, saying the United States had a duty to defend this tool of economic and social development. Reporters Without Borders urges her to defend these principles now in her contacts with Vietnam, the world’s second-largest prison for netizens with a total of 16 cyber-dissidents and three journalists detained.