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Vietnam Committee condemns Hanoi’s “systematic liquidation” of the Vietnamese dissident movement

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PARIS, 11 May 2007 (Vietnam Committee) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights is deeply disturbed by the extremely harsh prison sentences handed down today against human rights lawyers Nguyen van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, and against other dissidents in the unfair trials of 10 and 11 May 2007. The Committee fears that other harsh convictions will follow. The Committee strongly denounces the recent vast wave of repression against dissidents whose sole “crime” is that of exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression and association, rights enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Vietnam acceded in September 1982.

Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee for Human Rights firmly denounced this “systematic liquidation of the Vietnamese dissident movement”, recalling that “the international community, deceived by the new lease of freedom enjoyed by Vietnamese dissidents over the previous year, gave Hanoi everything it wanted on a plate : removal from the US State Department’s blacklist of “Countries of Particular Concern” for religious freedom violations, WTO membership, favoured trading status with the US (PNTR) and recognition of its international legitimacy at the APEC Summit in Hanoi in November 2006. Vietnamese democracy activists served as “useful dissidents”. Hanoi no longer needs them, and is throwing them into prison just as one throws away old clothes…”

Mr Ai concluded with a warning to the international community, especially to democratic countries seeking to do business with Vietnam. “Now you see how Vietnam treats its people, how cleverly it deceives good-willed – if not naïve people – and how it is systematically opposed to any notion of democratisation or even the minimal respect for human rights. These things could have easily been foreseen by reading the Vietnamese government’s declarations or observing the plight of the Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy Thich Quang Do, both detained for 25 years without trial, and the regime’s ill-treatment of all “non-recognized” religious communities (Buddhists, Protestants, Hoa Hao etc…)”.

Yesterday, 10 May 2007, Le Nguyen Sang, Nguyen Bac Truyen and Huynh Nguyen Dao were respectively sentenced to 5, 4 and 3 years in prison, followed by 2 years probationary detention (house arrest) for “spreading propaganda against the State” (Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code). Today, 11 May 2007, lawyers Nguyen van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan were convicted under the same change. Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 4 years probationary detention, and Le Thi Cong Nhan to 4 years prison and 3 years probationary detention. All were condemned under Vietnam’s vaguely-worded “national security” laws. The United Nations has repeatedly condemned these laws as being totally incompatible with international human rights legislation, and called for their immediate abrogation.

As is the custom in Vietnam, these trials were totally unfair. The right to presumption of innocence was not upheld, defence was grossly inadequate and the judges were not impartial. The authorities demonstrated “transparency” by allowing foreign observers (journalists and diplomats) to follow the trial on television, but pretexted technical problems to prevent them from hearing the proceedings clearly.

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