Vietnam:Government harasses Internet writers

New York, March 3, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Vietnamese authorities’ recent harassment of two well-known Internet writers, Nguyen Khac Toan and Do Nam Hai.

Plainclothes officers on Wednesday detained the two writers at a public Internet café and took pictures of the sites they were viewing, which included the banned Web site of the Free Vietnam Alliance democracy group, according to a Deutsche Presse-Agentur report, which quoted Toan.

The authorities also forced Hai to open his personal e-mail account and printed about 30 of his sent messages. The two writers were interrogated for six hours at the café and later at a police station in Hanoi, according to the DPA report. Both were released from police custody the same day.

Toan, 50, was released in January from prison after serving three years of a 12-year sentence for espionage related to sending reports about disgruntled farmers over the Internet to overseas pro-democracy groups. The United States responded positively to Toan’s release, and Washington recently resumed talks with Vietnam on human rights issues after a three-year suspension.

Hai, a freelance writer from Ho Chi Minh City commonly known by his pen name Phuong Nam, has published articles calling for democratic reform in Vietnam. He was subjected to official harassment in 2004 and 2005, according to CPJ research.

“Harassing and detaining people for using the Internet raises clear doubts about the Vietnamese government’s attitude toward human rights,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The government should end this campaign of intimidation immediately.”

Vietnam is one of Asia’s leading Internet censors, using sophisticated firewalls to block Web sites. At least two Internet writers—Pham Hong Son and Nguyen Vu Binh—are serving punitive prison terms on antistate charges for writings they posted online.