Elderly writer held incommunicado

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned about the safety of 73-year-old Tran Dung Tien, who was arrested on January 22, 2003, after writing an open letter calling for the release of imprisoned activists Pham Que Duong and Tran Khue. His current whereabouts are unknown, and given his advanced age, we are extremely worried about his health.

At about 10:30 a.m. on January 22, Tien was arrested at a photocopy shop in the capital, Hanoi, according to his wife, Duong Kim Hop. That same day, police confiscated two boxes of documents from their home. Despite repeated inquiries from Hop, police have not provided any information about where Tien is being held or if he has been formally charged with any crime.

On January 20, Tien had distributed an open letter addressed to government leaders and the media calling for the release of imprisoned democracy activists Pham Que Duong and Tran Khue, who were arrested in late December 2002 after meeting at Khue’s home in Ho Chi Minh City. Tran Khue, who had been under house arrest since October 2001, has written a number of essays criticizing government policies and calling for political reform. Government officials have stated that both Duong and Khue will be tried but have not clarified when or on what charges.

In his January 20 letter, Tien wrote, “I sincerely wish that patriots, those enamored of rights and justice, intellectuals, and former comrades-in-arms, including truly revolutionary military men, will all raise their voices to demand … that Colonel Pham Que Duong and scholar Tran Khue be released at once. To remain silent is to be irresponsible, for it amounts to accepting the continuation of crimes and tyranny.”

(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.)

Tien is a former soldier in the Vietnamese army who served as a bodyguard to revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh in the 1940s. In recent years, he has written a number of open letters and essays calling for political reform and analyzing the failures of the communist leadership. On November 8, 2002, Tien was briefly detained after protesting the trial of Internet essayist Le Chi Quang, who was sentenced to four years in prison for his writings.

During the last year, several Vietnamese writers have been harassed, placed under tight surveillance, and imprisoned for publishing independent views–part of a broad crackdown aimed at silencing dissent. CPJ respectfully reminds Your Excellency that the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed both by the Vietnamese Constitution and by the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a signatory.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ condemns your government’s detention of Tran Dung Tien and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and await your response.


Joel Simon
Acting Director