Pro-democracy writer freed from Vietnamese prison—with conditions

New York, August 30, 2006—Writer Pham Hong Son was freed from prison today several months ahead of his scheduled release, but he faces three years of restricted movements and government surveillance, his wife told reporters. Son, a medical doctor who spent more than four years in prison after posting pro-democracy writings online, was included in a presidential amnesty apparently intended to clear the way for Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization.

A government official told reporters that Son would still have to serve three years of “community involvement”—a phrase that can indicate a period of sustained official harassment and house arrest. His wife, Vu Thuy Ha, said that security around their residence was intense, and that Son was told that he needed permission to leave the neighborhood, according to international news reports.

“In front of our house there are many, many policemen,” she told The Associated Press. ’We are not comfortable at all.”

Son was detained in 2002 and accused of antistate activities after writing essays and translating and posting online an essay titled “What is Democracy?” that had first appeared on the U.S. State Department’s Web site. Another Internet writer and journalist, Nguyen Vu Binh, remains in prison on a seven-year sentence related to his work.

“Vietnamese officials want to gain international favor by freeing Pham Hong Son and others, but by placing him under virtual house arrest they make clear their intention of repressing critical voices,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call for the conditions of his release to be dropped, and for the release of imprisoned writer Nguyen Vu Binh.”

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