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United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention condemns unlawful imprisonment of government critics in Vietnam

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PARIS, 7 September 2009 (VCHR) – The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a prominent body which reviews cases of unlawful imprisonment, has declared that several Vietnamese dissidents are wrongfully detained, in violation of international human rights laws. They include blogger Nguyen Hoang Hai (Dieu Cay), writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia, activists Pham Van Troi, Pham Thanh Nghien, Vu Hung, Ngo Quynh and Nguyen Van Tuc, journalists Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien. Several are awaiting trial or have been convicted to prison terms for criticizing Vietnam’s policies, notably their policies on China. The UN Working Group called on Vietnam to “take the necessary steps to remedy the[ir] situation”, and immediately release Truong Minh Duc, who is reportedly in poor health.

In “Opinion 1/2009”, adopted at its 54th Session in Geneva (1), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Xuan Nghia, Ms. Pham Thanh Nghien, Vu Hung, Ngo Quynh and Nguyen Van Tuc, arrested in September 2008 and still awaiting trial in connection with peaceful demonstrations on the Spratly and Paracel islands, are arbitrarily detained because their actions “merely represent the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of assembly and opinion and expression”. The Working Group expressed particular concern about high-school teacher Vu Hung, who has reportedly been dismissed from his post.

Blogger Nguyen Hoang Hai, sentenced to 30 months in prison on 10.9.2008 by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court on charges of “tax evasion”, had posted articles on the Internet contesting China’s claims on the Paracel and Spratly Islands, and taken part in demonstrations. Considering the “peacefulness and legitimacy” of his journalistic and political activities “which was not contested by the Vietnamese Government”, the UN Working Group concluded that his detention represented “an attempt to stifle the exercise of his rights to freedom of opinion and expression and of peaceful assembly”.

The Working Group considered the case of free-lance journalist Truong Minh Duc to be a “particularly serious case of arbitrary detention”. Accused of “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to infringe upon the interests of the State” (Article 258 of the Criminal Code), he was sentenced to 5 years in prison on 28.3.2008 in Kien Giang province for writing articles on official corruption. Given the harsh prison sentence and the journalists’ “poor status of health due to harsh detention conditions”, the UN Working Group called for his immediate release.

Whilst two other journalists, Nguyen Van Hai (Tuoi Tre magazine) and Nguyen Viet Chien (Thanh Nien newspaper), sentenced respectively to 2 years prison and 2 years re-education in 2008 for reporting on a high-level corruption scandal, have since been released due to international pressure, the UN Working Group nevertheless declared that their conviction on charges of “abusing job title and power” was arbitrary. Their activities fell “squarely within the scope of the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, and the exercise of their professional capacities, the Working Group said.

The UN Working Group also denounced Vietnam’s use of “broad criminal law provisions” such as Article 258 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code “which make “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to abuse the interests of the State” a crime”. The Working Group esteemed that these provisions are “inconsistent with any of the rights and liberties guaranteed by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam is a State Party”. Article 258 is punishable with up to 7 years in prison.

This announcement comes as Vietnam intensifies a crackdown on writers and journalists who have criticized Communist Party policies online. On 2nd September, blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (blog name Me Nam, “Mushroom Mother”) was arrested in Nha Trang on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” (Article 258 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code, which carries up to 7 years in prison). On 25 August, journalist Huy Duc was fired from the Saigon Tiep Thi Newspaper after the Communist Party complained about his blog “Osin”. Two others, Hanoi blogger Bui Thanh Hieu (blog name Nguoi Buon Gio, Wind Trader), and Pham Doan Trang, an editor of a top-ranked news Website VietnamNet (blog-name “Trang the Ridiculous”), arrested on 27-28 August, have since been released. All of them had criticized the Communist Party’s submissive attitude to China on issues of territorial sovereignty, notably China’s claims to the disputed Paracel and Spratly archipelagos, and the government’s backing of a highly controversial Bauxite mining project in the Central Highlands, which has been tendered to a Chinese company.

Five other government critics, including human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Le Thang Long, Nguyen Tien Trung and Tran Anh Kim, arrested since May 2009, face prosecution for similar “acts against the Vietnamese State”, and 27 others are under investigation, according to the official press.


(1) This Opinion was adopted at the 54th Session of the UN Working Group which met in Geneva in May 2009. Following the Working Group’s procedures, the Opinion must first be forwarded to the Vietnamese government. It remains confidential until the UN Working Group decides to make it public and sends a copy to the source. The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights has just received this copy from the UN Working Group in Geneva.

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