Writer charged with espionage

New York, June 10, 2004—Tran Khue, an elderly writer and former literature professor, was recently formally charged with espionage, after being detained without charge for almost 18 months. Another writer, Pham Que Duong, who was arrested around the same time, has not yet been charged or tried.

According to CPJ sources, on Tuesday, June 9, Khue’s family was called into the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court, where an official read the charges against Khue, which include espionage and violation of a house arrest order. No one provided his family with any document outlining the charges, and no trial date was announced.

Khue, who had been under house arrest since Oct. 9, 2001, was detained on Dec. 29, 2002, a few days after he met with Duong and his wife in Ho Chi Minh City. Duong, a 72-year-old Hanoi-based writer and democracy activist, had in recent years written several essays advocating human rights and political reforms. He was arrested at the Ho Chi Minh City train station on Dec. 28, 2002, while returning to his home in Hanoi. After both arrests, a government official declared that the two men had been “caught red-handed while carrying out activities that seriously violate Vietnamese laws.”

At the time of his detention, Khue was serving a two-year house arrest sentence. (Vietnamese law allows the government to put individuals under house arrest for two years without due process.) Authorities imposed the detention order soon after Khue had been active in a failed effort to legally register an independent organization, the National Association to Fight Corruption.

In recent years, Khue has written a number of articles and open letters calling for political reforms and criticizing government policies. He had established two online publications, Dialogue 2000 and Dialogue 2001, which included articles by himself and others on political topics. In January 2002, the Vietnamese government ordered local officials to destroy all printed copies of the publications.

In March 2002, police raided Khue’s home and confiscated his computer and several documents. According to CPJ sources, officers were searching for material related to an open letter he had written to then Chinese President Jiang Zemin, in which he protested recent border accords between Vietnam and China. Following this incident, security officials put Khue’s house under 24-hour surveillance.

“By charging Tran Khue, the Vietnamese government has again used the pretext of national security to imprison a writer who has merely expressed his views,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Both Khue and Pham Que Duong have been imprisoned for almost 18 months without being tried. They should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Nine journalists are currently in prison in Vietnam. One of them, Nguyen Vu Binh, was sentenced to seven years in prison on espionage charges on Dec. 31, 2003. In May, Binh carried out a two-week hunger strike to protest the charges against him.