Mr Sidiki Kaba, President of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Mr Vo Van Ai, FIDH Vice-President and Chairman of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, wrote to the Vietnamese leadership today expressing grave concern on arrest of dissident and human rights defender Dr Nguyen Dan Que in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on 17 March.
“According to international standards, we esteem that Dr Que is a prisoner of conscience, and we call for his immediate and unconditional release” they declared in an Open Letter to President Tran Duc Luong, Premier Phan Van Khai, VCP Secretary-general Nong Duc Manh and National Assembly President Nguyen Van An.
The organizations reported that Dr Que, 61, was arrested outside his home at 8 pm on 17 March while allegedly on his way to an Internet café to send information overseas. He was placed in custody at the office of the central Interior Department in Nguyen Van Cu Street, Saigon. At midnight, Security Police searched his home and confiscated his mobile phone, computer and several documents.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said yesterday that he had been caught “red-handed committing an offence” and would be put on trial. The FIDH and the VCHR questioned the “inexplicit” nature of this charge, and expressed concern that Dr Que faced a harsh conviction if charged with sending E-mails abroad. “The ‘crime’ of sending information overseas is classified as ‘espionage’ under Vietnam’s ‘national security laws’, and has recently been very seriously sanctioned”. They reminded the Vietnamese leadership that “the catch-all concept of ‘national security’, used as a pretext to repress the legitimate exercise of basic human rights, was strongly condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee in July 2002. [The UN experts] esteemed that these laws were incompatible with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam acceded in 1982”.
Mr Kaba and Mr Ai recalled that Dr. Que had already spent over 18 years in prison for advocating political reforms. Condemned to 20 years in prison in 1991, he was released in a government amnesty in 1998 on condition he emigrate to the USA. However, he declined to leave after being released. Since then, Dr Que has been held under effective house arrest “under tight Police surveillance, and continually subjected to harassment by Security Police”. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had recognized Dr Que as a victim of arbitrary detention, they said.
The FIDH and the Vietnam Committee stressed that Dr Que’s arrest was particularly disturbing since it followed a pattern of “increasing repression against people with divergent opinions in Vietnam, as illustrated by the arrests, amongst many others, of dissidents Pham Que Duong, 72, former colonel in the People’s Army and editor-in-chief of the “Military History Review” on 29 December 2002, and Tran Khue, Research fellow at the Ho Chi Minh Institute of Social Sciences on 30 December 2002”.
The FIDH is one of France’s oldest and most prominent human rights NGOs. Founded 1922, it has 115 affiliate leagues worldwide. The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights is an affiliate of the FIDH.