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dpa : Vietnam uses espionage charges to suppress freedom, says rights group

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HANOI, April 2, 2003 (dpa) – Vietnam is using espionage charges as an excuse to arrest dissidents and suppress freedom of expression in the communist country, the president of a Paris-based human rights group told the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva Friday.

Vo Van Ai, the president of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), condemned the crackdown in Vietnam on the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), the VCHR statement said.

The rights group president also expressed concern over a former monk from the banned church who was abducted from Cambodia and forcibly repatriated to Vietnam, the statement said.

Pham Van Tuong, also known as Thich Thi Luc, was awarded refugee status by the U.N. in Cambodia in 2002. In July 2002, the dissident ex-monk disappeared from a guest house in the Cambodian capital.

Authorities in Vietnam repeatedly denied knowing anything about the whereabouts of Tuong until over a year later, when communist officials announced that Tuong was to face trial in Vietnam after recently being caught trying to flee the country.

Vietnam detained him in secret for one year then legalized his arbitrary detention by giving him an unfair prison sentence of 20 months.

He must be given immediate access to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and placed under U.N. protection, Vo Van Ai said in the statement.

Tuong was released from his 20-month sentence on Monday, but his phone was cut the day after his release and all contacts are now impossible, the statement said.

The elderly leaders of the UBVC have spent most of the last 20 years either in prison or under house arrest. The two monks are facing charges of carrying state secrets after relations briefly improved with the authorities and then deteriorated again last year.

Vietnam has repeatedly stated that there are no restrictions of movement on the two leaders. However, requests to visit either of them have been ignored by Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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