Vietnam: Dissident writer under house arrest for backing democracy

June 29, 2000

His Excellency Tran Duc Luong
President, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Hanoi, Vietnam
Via Fax: 011-84-4-823-1872
Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly protests the house arrest of writer Dr. Nguyen Xuan Tu, better known by his pen name Dr. Ha Sy Phu. We call on the Vietnamese government to restore Dr. Ha’s liberty and abandon legal actions currently pending against him.

Dr. Ha is a scientist and political essayist who was previously jailed for his pro-democracy writings. Vietnamese officials have not provided any legal justification for placing Dr. Ha under house arrest, but CPJ sources say that he is being harassed because of his alleged collaboration, with other dissident intellectuals, in the recent drafting of a not-yet-published pro-democracy declaration.

(Because of your government’s extraordinarily tight control over news and information circulated within the country, CPJ classifies open letters, pamphlets, and other forms of political speech in Vietnam as journalism.)

On April 28, police raided Dr. Ha’s home in Dalat, Lam Dong Province. They confiscated some of his personal property, including a computer, a printer, and several diskettes. On May 12, Dr. Ha was placed under house arrest in Dalat.

According to police decision 01/QD, which Lam Dong police chief Col. Nguyen Van Do signed on May 10, Dr. Ha is confined to his home and must report daily to the Dalat police for interrogation. That same day, Col. Do also signed Decision 07/QD, which decrees that Dr. Ha be tried for treason under Article 72 of the Criminal Code. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Dr. Ha is apparently being held under Administrative Detention Directive 31/CP, which provides for indefinite house arrest without due process. As Your Excellency is no doubt aware, this directive violates Article 72 of Vietnam’s Constitution, which states that “No one shall be regarded as guilty and be subjected to punishment before the sentence of the Court has acquired full legal effect.” In the five weeks since the police orders were issued, Dr. Ha has not been tried, and there has been no judicial review of his case.

In an open letter dated May 19 and addressed to the Vietnamese National Assembly, a group of five dissidents protested Dr. Ha’s arrest and called for democratic reform in Vietnam. CPJ has learned that all five signatories have since had their phone lines cut off and been subjected to other forms of official harassment. We are concerned that the signatories–Hoang Minh Chinh, Pham Que Duong, Nguyen Thanh Giang, Hoang Tien, and Tran Dung Tien–are being persecuted for their public support of Dr. Ha.

Such instances of government harassment are disturbingly common in Vietnam, and this is not the first time Dr. Ha has been punished for expressing his political views. On December 4, 1995, he granted an interview to a California radio station in which he urged Vietnamese-Americans to work toward democracy in Vietnam. The next day, Dr. Ha was arrested and held for more than eight months without trial. Police searched his home and confiscated thousands of pages of documents and manuscripts, including two issues of Thien Chi, a monthly Vietnamese-language journal published in Germany that had reprinted some of his essays.

Dr. Ha finally stood trial in August 1996. He was found guilty under a law that outlaws possessing or revealing “state secrets,” and sentenced to one year in prison. After coming under intense international pressure, the government released him in December 1996, with credit for time served. Since then, Dr. Ha has lived under constant surveillance and harassment in Dalat.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ believes that no one should ever be imprisoned for what they write or publish. We therefore call for the unconditional release of Ha Sy Phu. We also believe that your government should rescind Administrative Detention Directive 31/CP, which is regularly used to isolate journalists and political dissidents.

CPJ respectfully reminds Your Excellency that Vietnam is a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, under which your government is obliged to ensure that citizens are free to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, without interference. These freedoms are also guaranteed under Article 69 of the Vietnamese Constitution.

We think it incumbent on Your Excellency to ensure that justice is done in this case. We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter, and await your response.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director