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Vietnam May 3, 2012
H.E. Truong Tan Sang
Office of the President
1 Hoang Hoa
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Fax: (011.84.4) 823.1872
The Overseas Press Club of America, which has defended press freedom and freedom of expression for more than 70 years, is greatly saddened by your country’s growing reputation for suppression of this freedom, particularly in regard to the bloggers in your country.
The most recent examples of your country’s oppression of the media were the charges brought against three journalists who have already been incarcerated in Vietnam’s jails for several months. The charges against Nguyen Van Hai, PhanThanhHai and Ta Phong Tan involve a total of 421 articles that they wrote and posted on their blogs, which are said to have “denigrated the state.” All three could face jail terms of up to 20 years if convicted of the charges, brought under Article 88.2 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code, which addresses “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
According to The New York Times, Nguyen Van Hai,60, also known as Nguyen Hoang Hai, has been imprisoned since 2008 on the trumped-up charge of property tax evasion when his real “offense” was “writing on sensitive human rights and corruption issues in Vietnam and criticizing China’s human rights record” in his political blog Dieu Cay (Peasant’s Pipe). On the day of his scheduled release following completion of his 30-month sentence on the tax evasion charge in 2010, his family was awakened by a pre-dawn police raid, and his wife was beaten by police and told that he would not be released pending new charges. Amnesty International has reported that he is ill and has lost a lot of weight.
PhanThanhHai, 43, who wrote under the pen name, Anh Ba Saigon (Saigon Brother Three), was arrested in October 2010 under a provisional four-month arrest order and held without charge for the past 18 months. He had reported on politically sensitive issues on his blog, including a dispute with China over maritime boundaries, a scandal involving a debt-laden state-owned shipbuilder, a controversial bauxite project and case studies of famous dissidents. Ironically, he also posted an article calling for the repeal of Article 88, believing it to violate Article 69 of your country’s Constitution (which guarantees freedom of expression) and Article 53 which enshrines the right of all citizens to participate in the discussion of problems of the country and region.
Ta Phong Tan, 44, documented social injustice and denounced corruption on her blog, Congly&Suthat (Justice and Truth). She began her writing career as a freelance journalist, writing for many mainstream newspapers in Vietnam and the BBC’s Vietnamese service. She founded her blog in November, 2006, writing about social issues such as the mistreatment of children, official corruption, unfair taxation, illegal land confiscations by local officials, as well as the widespread abuse of power by the police in Vietnam. A former policewoman, she was arrested on September 5, 2011.
In every modern country, journalists have many critical functions, which include helping to educate a country’s populace so that they can participate effectively in the discussions of problems of the country, as described in Article 53 of your Constitution. Another important role is that of the investigative journalist who uncovers corruption so that the wrongdoers can be prosecuted. For example, Nguyen Van Khuong, who writes as Hoang Khuong, exposed traffic police corruption in his investigative reporting for the newspaper, TuoiTre. It is an exercise in cynicism that his stories about police officers who take bribes to ignore traffic violations resulted in his own arrest on January 2, 2012, so that he could be investigated for bribing police officers.
Your Excellency, it is shocking that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Vietnam 172nd of the 179 countries surveyed in its annual Press Freedom Index. Only seven countries were reported to be more repressive of the media than Vietnam. According to RSF, currently resident in Vietnam’s jails are five journalists and 18 bloggers.
The members of the Overseas Press Club of America’s Freedom of the Press Committee urge you to free these journalists and bloggers immediately and to take all possible steps to protect freedom of expression, guaranteed both by Article 69 of your Constitution and by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Susan R. Schorr
Freedom of the Press Committee
H.E. Nguyen Tan Dung
Office of the Prime Minister
1 Bach Thao
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
H.E. Nguyen Quoc Cuong
Ambassador of Vietnam to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
1233 20th Street, NW (Suite 400)
Washington, DC 20036
Fax: (202) 861.0917
Ambassador Le Hoai Trung
Permanent Mission of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the United Nations
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 435
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 644.5732
H.E. David B. Shear
U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam
Embassy of the United States of America
7 Lang Ha
Ba Dinh District
Fax: (011.84.4) 18.104.22.168
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20520