Writer to go on trial

New York, December 29, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the prolonged detention of writer Nguyen Vu Binh and calls for his immediate release. Binh, 35, is scheduled to go on trial on December 31 at the People’s Court in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.

A court official told international news agencies that Binh will be tried on charges of espionage. Foreign journalists and diplomats will be barred from the trial.

Security officials searched Binh’s home in Hanoi, before arresting him on September 25, 2002, according to CPJ sources. Police did not disclose the reasons for the writer’s arrest, although CPJ sources believe it may be linked to an essay he had written criticizing border agreements between China and Vietnam.

In late July 2002, Binh was briefly detained after submitting written testimony to a U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing on freedom of expression in Vietnam. Authorities then required him to report to the local police station daily. He was also subjected to frequent, day-long interrogation sessions.

Binh worked for almost 10 years at Tap Chi Cong San (Journal of Communism), an official publication of Vietnam’s Communist Party. In January 2001, he left his position there after applying to form an independent opposition group called the Liberal Democratic Party.

Since then, Binh has written several articles calling for political reform and criticizing current government policy. In August 2002, he wrote an article titled “Some Thoughts on the China-Vietnam Border Agreement,” which was distributed online.

In 2002, Vietnamese authorities cracked down on critics of land and sea border agreements, which had been signed by China and Vietnam as part of a rapprochement following the 1979 war between the two countries. Several writers have criticized the government for agreeing to border concessions without consulting the Vietnamese people.

Vietnam is currently holding eight journalists in prison, including five who were targeted after writing or distributing information online. In June 2003, Internet essayist Pham Hong Son was sentenced to 13 years in prison after posting on the Web an article about democracy. Two months later, 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.