CPJ condemns arrest of journalist

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the recent arrest of Nguyen Dan Que, a writer and publisher of the underground magazine The Future. His detention is the latest move in your government’s ongoing crackdown on free expression in Vietnam.

On March 17, Que was arrested outside his home in Ho Chi Minh City. Police also confiscated several documents and a computer from his house. Que is currently being held at the Nguyen Van Cu detention center, according to CPJ sources.

On March 20, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson announced that, “Nguyen Dan Que was arrested red-handed while carrying out activities that violate Vietnamese law,” according to international news reports. She added that Que will be tried but did not clarify when or on what charges.

On March 13, Que issued a statement, titled “Communiqué on Freedom of Information in Vietnam,” in which he criticized your government’s refusal to implement political reforms and lift controls on the media. Que wrote that, “The state hopes to cling to power by brain-washing the Vietnamese people through stringent censorship and through its absolutist control over what information the public can receive.”

Que’s statement also declared support for a bill submitted to the United States House of Representatives on February 27, 2003, the Freedom of Information in Vietnam Act of 2003. The bill would support enhanced broadcasts from the U.S. government–funded Radio Free Asia into Vietnam and would allow the United States to counter Vietnamese government blocks on Internet access.

Que, an endocrinologist, is a prominent writer who has spent a total of 18 years in prison for his political activism since his first arrest in 1978. After his most recent release, in 1998, authorities have kept him under strict surveillance and have tightly restricted his movements. However, Que has remained active in recent years by writing a number of essays and letters calling for political reforms.

While announcing Que’s arrest, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson also stated that no one in Vietnam has been arrested “because of opinions.” However, according to CPJ’s records, eight journalists are in prison or under house arrest there for doing nothing more than peacefully expressing their views. On January 22, seventy-one-year-old writer Tran Dung Tien was arrested in the capital, Hanoi, and authorities have not given his family any information about the reasons for his arrest or his whereabouts. Nguyen Vu Binh and Pham Hong Son, both of whom were arrested in 2002 for publishing their writing on the Internet, are in detention awaiting trial.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ is outraged by your government’s draconian response to anyone who criticizes government policy. We respectfully remind Your Excellency that freedom of expression is a basic human right guaranteed by both the Vietnamese Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam has signed.

We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Nguyen Dan Que, Tran Dung Tien, Nguyen Vu Binh, Pham Hong Son, and the other journalists who have been imprisoned for their work.

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


Joel Simon
Acting Director