After 16 months without charge, prominent writer to go on trial

New York, July 20, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls for the immediate release of writer Nguyen Dan Que, who spent 16 months in detention without charge. The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court will finally try Que on July 29 on charges of “taking advantage of democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of the state,” the third time in less than a month that Vietnamese authorities will try a writer on such grounds.

Que, 62, was arrested outside his house in Ho Chi Minh City on March 17, 2003. Four days earlier, Que had written an essay titled “Communiqué on Freedom of Information in Vietnam,” which condemned the government’s strict control over information and the media. In the commentary, which was distributed online, Que wrote, “The state hopes to cling to power by brainwashing the Vietnamese people through stringent censorship and through its absolutist control over what information the public can receive.”

Three days after his arrest, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson announced that, “Nguyen Dan Que was arrested red-handed while carrying out activities that violate Vietnamese law.”

But the government did not release any information about his legal status or charges against him, until his trial was announced this month. Que’s trial was originally scheduled for July 19, but on July 16 a court official announced the proceedings would be delayed because “preparations are not complete.”

“Que has already spent 16 months in prison for doing nothing more than exercising his constitutional right to free expression,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today. “He should be released immediately and all charges against him dropped.”

Que, an endocrinologist, is also a prominent writer and political activist. Since 1978, he has spent a total of 18 years in prison. After his release in 1998, authorities put Que under tight surveillance and restricted his movements. Despite this government interference, Que has continued to be active by writing a number of essays and open letters calling for political reform.

In May 2004, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Que would be released only if he agreed to leave Vietnam permanently and live in exile. Que’s brother, Nguyen Quoc Quan, told CPJ that Que had rejected a similar offer when he was released from prison in 1998, saying, “exile is not freedom.”

Que is in poor health and suffers from kidney stones, a bleeding ulcer, and high blood pressure, according to Amnesty International. He is being held at Prison B34 in Ho Chi Minh City, according to Que’s brother, Nguyen Quoc Quan. His wife has not been allowed to visit or speak with him since his arrest.

Two other prominent writers and political activists, Tran Khue and Pham Que Duong, were sentenced this month to 19 months in prison on charges of “taking advantage of democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of the state.” Because their sentences account for time served, both men are scheduled for release next week.