Vietnam: APEC leaders must press for release of journalist Nguyen Vu Binh

New York, November 16, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Asia Pacific leaders ahead of their meeting in Hanoi to encourage Vietnam to release its last remaining jailed journalist. Freelancer Nguyen Vu Binh is serving a seven-year sentence on espionage charges for criticizing a border agreement between Vietnam and China.

Binh, who was jailed in 2002, is in poor health, according to his family, who visited him several weeks ago. He has lost weight and suffers from diabetes and heart problems which are not being adequately treated, the family said.

Leaders of the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum are meeting in Hanoi November 18-19.

“Vietnam has been trying to improve its press freedom record ahead of the APEC meeting and its talks to join the World Trade Organization,” said Joel Simon, CPJ executive director. “Keeping Nguyen Vu Binh behind bars undermines those efforts. The government has to do more than periodically release a few prisoners to show that it is committed to creating an atmosphere in which journalists can work without fear, and information can flow freely.”

Vietnam freed two journalists in an amnesty this year, making Binh the last journalist in jail for his work, according to CPJ research. The Vietnamese government continues to control the press and monitor Internet activity to stifle dissent.

Internet writer Nguyen Khac Toan was released in January after serving more than four years of a 12-year term because of his reporting on demonstrations outside the National Assembly in December 2001 and January 2002. And online writer Pham Hong Son was released in August after serving four years on “anti-state” charges after translating and posting online an essay headlined “What Is Democracy?” that initially appeared on a U.S. State Department Web site. Both face years of political and travel restrictions.

Vietnam has responded to international diplomatic pressure this year for improvements in press conditions. U.S. efforts led the government to announce that Vietnamese-American political prisoners would be deported. In September, the family of U.S. citizen and Vietnamese opposition party member Cong Thanh Do revealed that he had been imprisoned. After three weeks, he was released and deported to California. Do reports on the harassment and imprisonment of political activists, dissidents, and writers in Vietnam using the name Tran Nam.