In Vietnam, dissident writer Pham Hong Son to be released

New York, August 28, 2006—A Vietnamese government spokesman said today that Internet writer Pham Hong Son, who has been jailed for more than four years, would be included in an amnesty of more than 5,000 prisoners. The announcement at a Hanoi press conference comes as Vietnam seeks accession to the World Trade Organization and follows sustained pressure from foreign diplomats and international organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists.

It is unclear whether Son will be held under house arrest after his expected release from a prison in Thanh Hoa province this week; his original sentence included three years of house arrest. Government officials indicated today that Son would be on probation after his release, according to international news reports.

“We’re relieved by word that Pham Hong Son will be released from prison, but we call on the government to grant him complete freedom without condition,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We also call for the immediate release of Son’s fellow Internet writer, Nguyen Vu Binh, who remains unjustly jailed.”

Son, 37, was arrested in March 2002 after translating into Vietnamese and posting online an essay titled “What Is Democracy?” that had first appeared on the U.S. State Department’s Web site. Son, a medical doctor, had previously written essays promoting democracy and human rights, which were posted on Vietnamese-language online forums. Son was sentenced to 13 years in prison on “antistate” charges; on appeal his term was reduced to five years.

Son was reported in poor health in prison. Humanitarian groups said he had suffered from a hernia and had been coughing up blood.

Binh remains in prison on charges that he had “written and exchanged … information and materials that distorted the party and state policies,” the official Vietnam News Agency reported in 2003. Binh had been arrested in September 2002 after writing an essay criticizing border agreements between China and Vietnam, and he was later sentenced to seven years in prison.

Today’s amnesty was announced ahead of Vietnam’s Independence Day, September 2.

Last week, CPJ sent a letter to Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet expressing concern about recent harassment and detention of dissident writers, and new regulations which further impede independent reporting in Vietnam. Read the letter.