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dpa : Press freedom group slams dissident’s harsh prison sentence

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HANOI, June 19, 2003 (dpa) – Human rights groups, Vietnamese democracy activists and Hanoi-based diplomats on Thursday condemned Vietnam’s sentencing of a critic of the communist regime to 13 years in prison.

Pham Hong Son, 35, was arrested in March 2002, and was convicted in Hanoi People’s Court Wednesday of espionage in a one-day closed-door trial.

Son has committed no crime under international law and should be released immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Thursday.

“The international community is outraged by this action, which shows once again where Vietnam stands on human rights,” a Western diplomat said in Hanoi on Thursday. “This is a blatant abuse of right and fundamental freedoms unacceptable to the international community.”

Despite frequent condemnation of Vietnam’s human rights record by the international community and human rights organizations, Vietnam continues to crack down on critics, while seeking to increase international economic and political ties.

Vietnam’s state-run media strongly defended the conviction, saying Son had “e-mailed material to reactionary Vietnamese living overseas so that they could slander Vietnam for alleged human rights abuses”.

Son contacted government critics inside and outside Vietnam, and received money from overseas Vietnamese groups, the Vietnam News and at least two other state-run newspapers said.

Authorities said that when they searched Son’s home in 2002, they found “anti-Vietnam material in both hard copy and in his computer”, the Vietnam News reported.

Critics point out, though, that Vietnam is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states : “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.”

The Committee to Protect Political Prisoners in Vietnam described Son as “a dictatorship’s victim”, in an e-mailed statement professing to be from within the communist country.

“We strongly demand of the government to stop any more of violations and to respect all Vietnamese Citizens’ human rights,” said the statement, signed by Tran Hoang Le.

Son is one of six dissidents arrested or sentenced in Vietnam over the last year according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Prior to his arrest in 2002, Son had posted on the Internet articles critical of the government. He translated an essay from a U.S. State Department website called “What is Democracy”, the CPJ said Thursday.

In Vietnam all media, including the Internet, are strictly controlled.

The government operates a firewall that prevents access to sites critical of the Hanoi regime, or contain pornographic material.

All newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations are controlled and closely monitored by government agencies. dpa st kj rk

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