Journalist’s appeal trial scheduled for next week

New York, August 22, 2003—Vietnam’s Hanoi Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the appeal of journalist Pham Hong Son on Tuesday, August 26. Son is serving a 13-year sentence on espionage charges.

“Pham Hong Son should never have been imprisoned,” said Ann Cooper, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “We believe that all charges against Son should be reversed and that he should be released. Son’s family, local and foreign journalists, members of the diplomatic corps, and other observers must be allowed to attend the trial on Tuesday.”

A foreign ministry spokesperson has said that the trial will be closed to overseas media and diplomats.

On March 27, 2002, authorities arrested Son after he used the Internet to distribute several essays and articles promoting democracy and human rights. Shortly before his arrest, Son had translated and posted online an essay titled “What is Democracy?” (The article had first appeared on the U.S. State Department’s Web site.) Son had also written several essays advocating political reform that were distributed online. (For more information, see the CPJ letters of April 29, 2002, and June 18, 2003.)

On June 18, 2003, the Hanoi People’s Court sentenced Son to 13 years in prison plus an additional three years of administrative detention, or house arrest. The trial was closed to foreign diplomats and correspondents. Son’s wife, Vu Thuy Ha, was also barred from the court room, except when she was called to testify.

Two months later, Vu Thuy Ha issued an open letter to the Minister of Public Security proclaiming her husband’s innocence. In the letter, she noted that in prosecuting Son, the government failed to state which country Son had allegedly spied for and what was his mission. She also stated that an article, titled “Pham Hong Son and his Journey to Become a Spy,” had libeled her husband. The article was published on July 31 in World Security (An Ninh The Gioi), which is operated by public security officials.

Several writers and political figures in Vietnam have publicly condemned the charges against Son and called for his release. In July, geophysicist and writer Nguyen Thanh Giang wrote an open letter protesting the government’s treatment of Son, calling it “inhumane, illegitimate, and unrighteous.”

Of the eight journalists currently imprisoned in Vietnam, five, including Son, were targeted for online publishing.