CPJ protests growing curbs on journalists

August 24, 2006

His Excellency Nguyen Minh Triet
President, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Hanoi, Vietnam

Via facsimile: 011-84-4-823-1872

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by Vietnam’s treatment of journalists, including the recent harassment of independent writers, new fines for unauthorized reporting, and heightened Internet restrictions. These measures threaten the development of a transparent government and active press, and invite international scrutiny as Vietnam bids for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) this fall.

On August 12, public security agents in Hanoi rounded up five dissident writers and editors who had planned to post online and print a newspaper entitled Tu Do Dan Chu (Freedom and Democracy). The five, writers Hoang Tien and Nguyen Khac Toan, and their colleagues Nguyen Van Dai, Bach Ngoc Duong and Duong Thi Xuan, were each detained at police stations in Hanoi and questioned for several hours.

Toan, who was released from prison earlier this year after serving four years for his online reporting of farmers’ protests, was detained again and questioned repeatedly for stretches of more than 12 hours through August 18, according to CPJ sources. Authorities confiscated computer equipment and documents from Toan’s house, and also took Tien’s desktop computer.

The five were members of a group calling itself the 8406 Group–named for a petition calling for greater democracy in Vietnam circulated on April 8, 2006–who had intended to make the newspaper available online to skirt a press law forbidding independent publishing. Because of official intervention, the group has been unable to go through with their intended launch on August 15.

The harassment of the writers came less than two months after the Ministry of Culture and Information instituted new regulations which impose fines on print, broadcast and Internet journalists for “denying revolutionary achievements; defaming the nation, great persons and national heroes; slandering and wounding the prestige of agencies and organizations” or those who “incorrectly portray interviewees.”

The decree, which came into effect on July 1 according to state media reports, is in addition to existing criminal penalties under which journalists can face long prison terms for writings found to be “anti-state” or “revealing state secrets.” Two writers–Pham Hong Son and Nguyen Vu Binh–have been unjustly imprisoned since 2002 under broad national security legislation for posting news and commentary online, according to CPJ research.

Your government has also intensified control of the Internet, filtering Vietnamese-language Web sites and political criticism in particular, according to a recent report by the university-based research group, OpenNetInitiative.

Your government’s detention and harassment of independent writers and the new restrictions on the media fall far short of international standards that guarantee freedom of the press and the free flow of information and opinions regardless of frontiers. The actions also violate the guarantee of free expression enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution, and threaten the development of a press that has become increasingly active, and which played a key role in exposing corruption in the Ministry of Transport earlier this year.

This fall, the United States Congress is expected to consider legislation that would grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Vietnam, aiding its bid for accession to the WTO. Several members of U.S. Congress have expressed concern that your government’s human rights record and its commitment to political reform have not matched its economic progress.

Restrictions and harassment of the press, in particular, send the disturbing signal that the Vietnamese government is unready to grant the kind of transparency that facilitates fair trade in the global market. As an independent, nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, we urge you to lift regulations that impede the development of a free press in Vietnam, and to end your government’s policy of harassing, detaining and imprisoning independent writers.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.


Joel Simon
Executive Director