Ailing Vietnamese journalist released from prison

New York, June 11, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes as “long overdue” the release of Nguyen Vu Binh, a journalist imprisoned since 2002 for criticizing the government and freed less than two weeks before Vietnam’s president is due to meet with President Bush.

“For nearly five years, Nguyen Vu Binh and family have suffered needlessly because of his work as a journalist,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We welcome his release, which is long overdue. But the timing suggests that the Vietnamese government views Binh as a political bargaining chip. Conditions for journalists in Vietnam remain highly repressive.”

Vietnamese authorities announced his release on Friday, two weeks before President Nguyen Minh Triet is scheduled to meet with Bush in what will be the first visit of a Vietnamese head of state to Washington since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Vietnam has been under growing pressure from the United States over its treatment of political dissidents.

Media and human rights advocates, including CPJ, have repeatedly called for Binh’s release on grounds that his imprisonment violated international standards guaranteeing free expression.

Binh, 39, is in poor health and was so weak that he could not carry on a conversation or lift his young daughter during his family’s visit to Nam Ha prison on February 15, according to CPJ sources. He suffers from liver disease, hypertension and other ailments.

A former reporter for the official publication Tap Chi Cong San (Journal of Communism), Binh has been serving a sentence of seven years in prison, plus three additional years of house arrest. He was jailed in September 2002, and freed from prison on Saturday. The conditions of his release weren’t immediately known.

Sources in Vietnam believe that his detention may have been linked to an August 2002 essay he wrote criticizing border agreements between Vietnam and China.

The Vietnamese government controls all print and broadcast media, and censors political commentary on the Internet. Several dissidents and journalists were jailed in a crackdown early this year, including press freedom and pro-democracy advocate Nguyen Van Dai, an attorney sentenced to a four-year prison term in May; and Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, a well-known journalist and author who was arrested in April and remains in jail.