After 18 months in prison, two writers to be tried

New York, July 7, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls for the immediate release of writers Pham Que Duong and Tran Khue, who were held without charge for 18 months. Khue is now expected to go to trial on July 9 in Ho Chi Minh City, with Duong’s trial scheduled for July 14 in Hanoi.

Pham Que Duong, a 72-year-old writer and military historian, was arrested December 28, 2002, at the Ho Chi Minh City train station while returning to his home in Hanoi after visiting Khue. Khue, 68, an on-line publisher and former literature professor, was arrested the following day at his home in Ho Chi Minh City.

After the arrests, a government official declared the two men had been “caught red-handed while carrying out activities that seriously violate Vietnamese laws.” But in the next year and a half, the government released no further information about the legal status of Khue or Duong.

On June 9, Khue’s family was notified that he would be charged with espionage. A few days later, officials told Khue the charges had been changed to “taking advantage of democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of the state,” under Article 258 of the Penal Code. On June 26, Duong’s wife visited him in jail and was notified that he would be charged with the same crime, according to CPJ sources.

In recent years, Khue has written several articles and open letters critical of government policy. He established two online publications, Dialogue 2000 and Dialogue 2001, which included articles he and others wrote advocating political reform. In January 2002, the Vietnamese government ordered local officials to confiscate and destroy all printed copies of the publications.

On October 9, 2001, Khue was placed under house arrest after he and Duong tried unsuccessfully to legally register an independent organization, the National Association to Fight Corruption. In March 2002, police raided Khue’s home after he wrote an open letter to then Chinese President Jiang Zemin, in which he protested recent border agreements between Vietnam and China.

Duong, a former colonel in the Vietnamese military, served as editor of Tap Chi Lich Su Quan Su (Military History Review) from 1982 to 1986. In 1990, he resigned from the Vietnamese Communist Party and began to write essays critical of the political system. According to CPJ sources, Duong was placed under tight surveillance in recent years.

“Both Pham Que Duong and Tran Khue have used their standing in Vietnamese society to speak out against government tyranny,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Their prolonged detention has been a grave injustice, and they both should be released immediately and without any conditions.”

According to CPJ’s records, eight journalists are currently in prison in Vietnam. On June 14, Internet essayist Le Chi Quang was released early from a four-year sentence.