The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights warmly welcomes Vietnam’s decision to release several prisoners of conscience in the coming days in a government amnesty for the Tet (Lunar New Year, 9th February 2005). The organization sincerely thanks the United States, the European Union, the European Parliament, the United Nations and international human rights organizations around the world for their tireless efforts for freedom and human rights in Vietnam. It believes that international pressure was a decisive factor in the early release of these prisoners, all of whom were detained for nonviolent acts of political or religious dissent.
In September 2004, the U.S. State Department placed Vietnam on a blacklist of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for its egregious violations of religious freedom, fixing the deadline of March 15, 2005 to decide whether to maintain Vietnam on this list and thus implement a range of punitive measures, including economic sanctions. In October 2004, 109 Euro M.P.s wrote to the Vietnamese leadership calling for the release of a list of 30 political prisoners, which was submitted to the Hanoi leadership by the EU Presidency at the Asia-Europe (ASEM) Summit in Hanoi. Four of the prisoners to be released in this year’s amnesty were on the EU list. They are also declared victims of arbitrary arrest by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. They are :
– Dr Nguyen Dan Que, 62, arrested in March 2003 and sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” at an unfair trial in July 2004 for circulating opposition views overseas on the Internet. He has spent over 20 years in detention and house arrest for his advocacy of human rights and democratic reforms. He was due to be released in September 2005 ;
– Buddhist monk Thich Thien Minh, 51, secular name Huynh Van Ba, condemned to a double life sentence (in 1979 and again in 1986) for supporting the banned UBCV and attempting to escape from reeducation camp. His sentence was later commuted to 20 years as a result of international pressure. Arrested at the age of 25, Thich Thien Minh has spent half his life in reeducation camp, performing hard labour under inhuman conditions. He has spent many long periods in solitary confinement, chained by the hands and feet, because of his outspoken defence of the rights of his fellow inmates and for demanding better detention conditions for all prisoners. In 1998, when the U.N.Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance Mr Abdelfattah Amor visited Thich Thien Minh in Z30A Reeducation Camp (in Xuan Loc, Dong Nai province), the monk began describing the appalling detention conditions, but prison wardens swiftly intervened and prevented him from speaking. Thich Thien Minh was due for release in 2006 ;
– Roman Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly, 58, condemned to 15 years in prison (later reduced to 5 years) and 5 years probationary detention for protesting religious freedom abuses and sending written testimony to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Arrested on 17 May 2001, he was due for release in May 2006 ;
– Nguyen Dinh Huy, 73, founder of the Movement to Unite the People and Build Democracy (MUPBD), sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1993 for planning to organize a conference in Ho Chi Minh City on development and democracy. He was charged with “seeking to over throw the people’s government”.
The Vietnam Committee urged Vietnam to ensure that these men would be granted full civil and political rights on their release and be amnestied of their whole prison sentence, including the customary “probationary detention” or house arrest. Prominent dissident Thich Quang Do, the UBCV’s Deputy leader, released in a government amnesty in September 1998, had his 5-year probationary detention sentence “reactivated” after he criticized the government’s religious policies and launched an “Appeal for Democracy in Vietnam” in 2001.
“The release of these dissidents is a positive step, but it must not be construed as evidence that all is going well in Vietnam. There are still many prisoners of conscience in Vietnam today, people who are serving harsh prison sentences simply for peacefully claiming their right to freedom of expression, opinion, religion and the press”, said Vo Van Ai, President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.
He called for the release of all other prisoners of conscience, especially the long-term detainees. He cited the case of Tran Van Luong, former Member of Parliament of the Republic of (South) Vietnam, sentenced to death in 1988 for distributing human rights leaflets in the street. He was charged with “seeking to overthrow the people’s government”. Following a concerted campaign by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, Tran Van Luong’s sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison. He is currently detained in T.5 Reeducation camp in Thanh Cam, Thanh Hoa province in northern Vietnam, and is in extremely poor health as a result of harsh detention conditions.
The Vietnam Committee also urged the Hanoi authorities to formally terminate the on-going “investigation” against UBCV leaders Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do before the Tet Lunar New Year. Arrested in October 2003 in a government crackdown, the two UBCV leaders were placed under “investigation for possession of state secrets”, and have been under house arrest in their monasteries ever since. They have never been formally charged, and their detention oversteps the maximum period stipulated in the Vietnamese Criminal Procedures Code. The Vietnam Committee called on Vietnam to release Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do before the Lunar New Year.
The U.S. Congress and the European Parliament both passed resolutions in November 2003 strongly condemning the detention of these two prominent Buddhist dissidents, and the 109 Euro M.P.s called for their release in their letter to the Vietnamese leadership presented at the ASEM Summit in October 2004.