The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the sentencing of writer Nguyen Vu Binh to seven years in jail, followed by three years of house arrest upon his release.
On December 31, the Hanoi People's Court sentenced Binh on espionage charges in a three-hour trial. Binh's wife was the only family member allowed into the courtroom. Foreign diplomats and journalists were barred from the trial.
Following the proceedings, the official Vietnam News Agency reported that Binh was sentenced because he had "written and exchanged, with various opportunist elements in the country, information and materials that distorted the party and state policies." He was also accused of communicating with "reactionary" organizations abroad.
Binh was arrested on September 25, 2002, from his house in Hanoi and has been held incommunicado since. Shortly before his arrest, Binh had written and distributed online an essay that criticized Vietnam's border agreements with China.
Binh worked for almost 10 years at Tap Chi Cong San (Journal of Communism), an official publication of Vietnam's Communist Party. In January 2001, he left his position there after applying to form an independent opposition group called the Liberal Democratic Party.
Since then, Binh has written several articles calling for political reform and criticizing current government policy. In July 2002, Binh was briefly detained after submitting written testimony to a U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing on freedom of expression in Vietnam. In August 2002, he wrote an article titled "Some Thoughts on the China-Vietnam Border Agreement," which was distributed online.
Several writers have been arrested for criticizing land and sea border agreements signed by China and Vietnam as part of a rapprochement following a 1979 war between the two countries. In November 2002, Internet journalist Le Chi Quang was sentenced to four years in prison after an essay he wrote, titled "Beware of Imperialist China," was distributed online.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ condemns the prosecution of journalists who have done nothing more than peacefully express their views on political issues. We respectfully remind Your Excellency that both the Vietnamese Constitution and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam has signed, guarantee the right to freedom of expression.
CPJ is also concerned by the blatant disregard for due process in the prosecution of journalists. Binh was detained for 15 months before being tried. During this time, Binh's family was not allowed to visit him and authorities did not offer any explanation for his arrest.
According to CPJ records, eight journalists are currently imprisoned in Vietnam for their writing. Two jailed journalists--Tran Khue, arrested on December 29, 2002, and Nguyen Dan Que, arrested March 17, 2003--have not yet been tried.
CPJ calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Nguyen Vu Binh, Tran Khue, Nguyen Dan Que, and the five other journalists currently in prison in Vietnam. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.