Writer to be tried tomorrow

New York, November 11, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the prolonged detention of writer Tran Dung Tien and calls for his immediate release. Tien, 74, is scheduled to go on trial tomorrow at Hanoi People’s Court.

A foreign ministry official announced today that Tien will be tried on charges of “abusing democratic rights to violate the interests of the state, and the rights and interests of citizens and organizations,” according to Agence France-Presse. Foreign journalists and diplomats will be barred from the trial.

Tien was arrested on January 22, 2003, two days after he distributed an open letter addressed to government leaders and the media. The letter demanded the release of imprisoned democracy activists Tran Khue and Pham Que Duong. In the letter, Tien wrote, “To remain silent is to be irresponsible, for it amounts to accepting the continuation of crimes and tyranny.”

(Because of the Vietnamese government’s extraordinarily tight control over news and information circulated within the country, CPJ classifies open letters, pamphlets, and other forms of political speech in Vietnam as journalism.)

As a soldier in the Vietnamese army, Tien served as a bodyguard to revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh in the 1940s. In recent years, he has written several essays and open letters in which he condemned official corruption, advocated political reforms and called for the release of political prisoners.

Tien’s trial was originally scheduled for October 16, but was postponed after officials announced that a judge had become sick.

Vietnam is currently holding eight journalists in prison. In June, Internet essayist Pham Hong Son was sentenced to 13 years in prison after posting an article about democracy online. In August, the Hanoi Supreme Court reduced Son’s sentence on appeal to five years, following widespread condemnation of his arrest by foreign governments and international press freedom and human rights groups.

“The charges again Tran Dung Tien are unfounded,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “In his writings, Tien expressed profound concern for the peaceful development of his country, and Vietnam’s leaders should welcome his views. CPJ calls for his immediate and unconditional release.”