Vietnam: Internet essayist’s trial imminent

New York, October 22, 2002—The trial of Internet essayist Le Chi Quang, 32, is scheduled for October 28 in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. He is being tried on national security charges, including distribution of “reactionary and subversive documents,” said CPJ sources.

Quang was targeted after he wrote a number of essays criticizing government policy. On February 21, Quang was arrested in a Hanoi Internet café and has been held in B14 Prison in Thanh Tri District outside the city since.

“Le Chi Quang should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Vietnam’s national security is not threatened by writers expressing their views—which is every person’s right—but rather by the regime’s draconian response to any criticism of its policies.”

On September 24, the state prosecutor’s office, known as the Supreme People’s Organ of Control, issued a document outlining specific charges against Quang and stating that he will be prosecuted under Article 88 of the Criminal Code, which bans the distribution of information that opposes the government.

The document cites several articles by Quang as evidence of his “anti-government” activities, including an essay titled “Beware of Imperialist China,” which criticized land and sea border agreements between China and Vietnam; essays praising well-known dissidents Nguyen Thanh Giang and Vu Cao Quan; and an article about the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement.

Quang’s mother, who visited her son in jail in mid-August, told CPJ sources that his health has deteriorated since his imprisonment began. He has lost much of his hair and suffers from a serious kidney problem. “He may be right or he may be wrong in his opinions,” she said, “but in no civilized country does one get jailed for expressing a wrong opinion.”

Ongoing Internet crackdown
Quang’s arrest earlier this year was part of an ongoing crackdown on those who use the Internet to circulate information. Vietnamese authorities maintain very strict control over the Web and in recent months have tightened regulations requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Internet café owners to monitor their customers’ online activities.

According to Vietnamese authorities, officials at a popular domestic ISP notified the Public Security Bureau that Quang had used computers at a specific Internet café in Hanoi to communicate with “reactionaries” living abroad. Security officials then tracked him down at the café.

On October 14, several Hanoi-based writers and intellectuals wrote an open letter to the government demanding the immediate release of Quang, writers Pham Hong Son and Nguyen Vu Binh, and human rights activist Nguyen Koac Toan.

Son is also being held in B14 prison for distributing information online. He was arrested on March 27 after translating into Vietnamese and posting online an article titled “What is Democracy?” Authorities have not yet announced Son’s trial date, but his colleagues believe he could be tried soon.

Binh was arrested on September 25 after writing an article criticizing the China-Vietnam border agreements [SEE CPJ’S PROTEST LETTER]. CPJ has learned that he is currently being held in Cau Dien Prison, in Ha Tay District outside Hanoi.