CPJ concerned about media crackdown

July 2, 2002

His Excellency Tran Duc Luong
President, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Hanoi, Vietnam

Via facsimile: 011-84-4-823-1872

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned by your government’s recent efforts to curtail free expression in Vietnam. This renewed attempt to control information comes amid a high-profile corruption scandal, which has spurred speculation in Vietnam and abroad that the Central Committee may institute government leadership changes at its meeting later this month.

During the last few weeks, the government has banned reporting on a major corruption scandal, tightened restrictions over television broadcasts and Internet access, and prevented prominent intellectuals and writers from communicating with the outside world.

Specifically, CPJ is concerned by the following developments:

  • On June 18, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai signed a decree reaffirming that only government officials, state-run media organizations, and foreign businesses and residents are allowed to access international television programs transmitted by satellite into Vietnam. In recent years, Vietnamese citizens have largely ignored the existing ban on the reception of satellite television and have turned to international broadcasts as a source of unbiased news coverage. The government owns all television stations in Vietnam and strictly censors broadcast news.

  • On June 20, the head of the Communist Party’s Central Ideology and Culture Board, Nguyen Khoa Diem, declared that the media were no longer permitted to report freely on the corruption case involving a well-known criminal gang. The domestic media have played a very important role in investigating and exposing the corruption case, which implicated several high-level leaders and resulted in the arrests of almost 100 people. In an interview with Phap Luat (Law) newspaper, Nguyen Khoa Diem said that the ideology board had instructed the media not to “expose secrets, create internal divisions, or hinder key propaganda tasks,” in their coverage of the scandal, according to Vietnamese and international news reports.

  • According to the Associated Press, on June 26, the Vietnam Economic Times newspaper reported that the government is planning to tighten controls over customers’ Web access in Internet caf&eacuate;s. The Ministry of Culture and Information has called on owners of Internet cafés to monitor their customers’ online activities in order to prevent them from accessing “state secrets” or “reactionary” documents. In Vietnam, “state secrets” is a broadly defined term that can include basic economic data or unsanctioned political reporting.

  • Two writers were detained in recent months for posting essays online and have not yet been tried or even formally charged with any crime, according to CPJ sources. Le Chi Quang was arrested on February 21 after writing an online essay criticizing bilateral negotiations between Vietnam and China. Pham Hong Son was arrested on March 27 after translating into Vietnamese and posting online an article titled, “What is Democracy?” Both men are currently being held in Prison B14 outside Hanoi. On June 27, Son’s wife, Vu Thuy Ha, wrote a letter to Your Excellency’s government requesting information about her husband’s legal status and calling for his release. She has not been allowed to visit Son since his arrest.

  • According to CPJ sources, authorities have recently escalated surveillance and harassment of several prominent intellectuals and writers, including General Tran Do, a Hanoi-based writer; Nguyen Xuan Tu (also known by his pen name, Ha Sy Phu), a Dalat-based scientist and political essayist who is currently under house arrest; Bui Minh Quoc, a Dalat-based writer; and Tran Khue, a writer and anti-corruption activist in Ho Chi Minh City. Authorities have cut most means of communication with these writers, holding them in effective incommunicado detention in their own homes.
    As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ condemns your government’s blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution and by the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a signatory.

    CPJ respectfully urges Your Excellency to take steps to ensure that all journalists in Vietnam are free to write about issues of national importance without fear of reprisal. The media should be encouraged to help expose and root out corruption, which your government has identified as one of the major problems currently facing Vietnam.

    We also call for the immediate and unconditional release of Le Chi Quang and Pham Hong Son.

    Thank you very much for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.

    Ann Cooper
    Executive Director