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Open Letter to French President François Hollande on the imprisonment of bloggers Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan

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PARIS, 26 September 2012 (VCHR) – Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam sent an Open Letter to French President François Hollande today calling for his urgent intervention for the release of Dieu Cay, Ta Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai. The three bloggers, founders of the “Club of Free Journalists in Vietnam” were charged with “circulating propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (Article 88 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code) and sentenced respectively to 12, 10 and four years in prison followed by five years house arrest for Dieu Cay and 3 years for the two others at an unfair trial at the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) which lasted only a few hours.

“On 24 September, freedom of expression stood trial in Vietnam. The “crimes” [of Dieu Cay, Ta Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai] consist of posting articles on the Internet calling for the respect of human rights and democratic freedoms, denouncing corruption or expressing their views on territorial disputes with China (over the Spratley and Paracel islands). In brief, they raised issues that Vietnam does not want to hear about”.

For Mr. Ai, “the case of these three bloggers is symptomatic of the Vietnamese government’s manipulations and its contempt for human rights and its international obligations”. He recalled that Dieu Cay was arrested in 2008 and served 30 months in prison for alleged “tax evasion”. Instead of being released, he was maintained in prison on a second charge of “circulating anti-Socialist propaganda”. Dieu Cay was then detained incommunicado for 23 months from October 2010 until just before his trial on 24 September. His family did not know if he was alive or dead.

The trial was delayed three times, Mr. Ai wrote, once in April 2012 because of a power struggle between the Public Security Bureau (PBS), the Procuracy and the Court – the PBS was asking harsher sentences than those proposed by the other two. It was delayed a second time in May because of international pressure, after US President Barack Obama raised the case of Dieu Cay in his address on International Press Freedom Day (3 May 2012); and a third time in August after Ta Phong Tan’s mother self-immolated on 30 July to protest her daughter’s unfair sentence. She died on her way to the hospital. This masquerade shows, wrote Vo Van Ai, “that the bloggers were pronounced guilty in advance. Their right to presumption of innocence was never taken into account”.

In his letter to the French President, Mr. Ai described the three bloggers’ unfair trial on Monday, which was virtually closed and lasted only a few hours. Police blockaded all streets leading to the Court, jammed mobile phone access in the Court’s vicinity, and arrested at least 12 people. Whereas a handful of diplomats and journalists were allowed to attend the opening and conclusions of the trial, they were forbidden to follow the whole process or bring cell phones and recorders inside. When Dieu Cay stood up to plead his innocence, the microphone went dead.

“Silence them. This is the aim of the Vietnamese authorities. This trial is a warning to all Vietnamese who want to speak out. It also sends a clear message to the international community. Vietnam, which seeks membership of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in 2014, has no intention of respecting human rights” wrote Mr. Vo Van Ai.

“Silence them. This is the treatment endured each day by millions of Vietnamese, who live as prisoners within their own country. Such is the plight of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do, Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), detained without charge in his pagoda in Saigon after suffering virtually uninterrupted internal exile, imprisonment and house arrest since 1982. His crime? A tireless and determined engagement for human rights and democracy.

“Silence them. The Vietnamese authorities have successfully achieved this even in their relations with democratic nations. Take France, for example. France, the country that prides itself on being the “birthplace of human rights, has been remained silent since the very beginning of this judicial masquerade”.

Mr. Ai recalled France’s long and special relationship with Vietnam, and its current cooperation in many sectors, including the legal domain with the Franco-Vietnamese “Maison du Droit” in Hanoi. So far, he said, France’s human rights policy is to influence its partners in a “discreet and friendly”, way, a point made clear during the “Francophonie Summit” in Hanoi presided by the former President Jacques Chirac in 1997.

“But that was fifteen years ago”, wrote Mr. Ai. “Since then, the human rights situation in Vietnam has gone from bad to worse. Today, one may legitimately question France’s discretion, and wonder if “friendship” has not finally turned into complicity…

“The Vietnamese people expect much more from France, not only from the government but also from civil society. In the past, France has intervened several times to save the lives of Vietnamese: in 1908 and 1911, the French League of Human Rights saved the patriot and pacifist Phan Chu Trinh from the death penalty and later from imprisonment. More recently, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during the campaign “A Ship for Vietnam” which I launched with the help of French friends, France warmly welcomed Vietnamese Boat People and provided them with a haven of refuge.

“It is time for France to take up the torch of human rights once again, to stand beside the victims of oppression, and make human rights and democratization a high priority on the government’s agenda” concluded Mr. Vo Van Ai.

This post is also available in: French Vietnamese

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