Imprisoned journalist offered exile as condition for release

New York, July 16, 2003—A top Vietnamese government official has said that imprisoned writer and publisher Nguyen Dan Que would be released only if he agrees to leave Vietnam permanently and live in exile, according to a Sunday, July 13, report from the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) confirmed by CPJ.

RFA reported that Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung made the offer in late May during a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Raymond Burghardt. But Que’s brother, Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, told CPJ that he expects Que to refuse to leave his country even though he may face trial for espionage.

Que, a 61-year old endocrinologist, is a prominent writer who was arrested for the third time on March 17 in Ho Chi Minh City as part of an ongoing crackdown on free expression. Days earlier, he had issued a statement criticizing the government’s harsh restrictions on the media and calling for political reform. In the statement, titled “Communiqué on Freedom of Information in Vietnam,” 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.”

No one from his family has been allowed to see Que since his arrest, and Ambassador Burghardt’s request for a visit was also denied, according to Quan.

“Nguyen Dan Que should not be driven into exile as a condition for his release,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Que’s writings express a deep desire to reform his country from within, and the fact that he has remained in Vietnam despite suffering years of imprisonment and harassment is proof of great patriotism.”

Que has spent a total of 18 years in prison for political activism since his first arrest in 1978. Quan told CPJ that Que refused a similar offer of exile when he was amnestied from prison in 1998, telling him at that time that “exile is not freedom.” The years in prison have taken a toll on Que’s health; he suffers from hypertension and a peptic ulcer.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said in a press release yesterday that it had no information about an offer for the release for Que, that authorities were gathering more evidence on his case, and that he would be tried in accordance with Vietnamese law.

Que is one of eight journalists currently imprisoned in Vietnam.