French journalist arrested along with activists

New York, November 26, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release French activist and journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, who was arrested on November 17 in Ho Chi Minh City along with a group of five political activists associated with the pro-democracy Viet Tan party.

Thanh Van is an editorial member of the exile-run monthly Viet Nam Dan Chu (Vietnam Democracy) and a contributor to the Japan- and U.S.-based Chan Troi Moi radio program, which is regularly broadcast on shortwave radio to Vietnam. She was arrested by security officials at a private residence in Ho Chi Minh City, according to a statement released by the Viet Tan party. Thanh Van resides in Paris.

She and four other activists were initially held at Saigon’s public security office. The whereabouts of a fifth activist, U.S. citizen Nguyen Quoc Quan, is currently unknown. According to a source associated with the Viet Tan party who spoke with CPJ, Thanh Van and the four others have since been moved to Saigon’s main detention center.

The Vietnamese authorities had, despite holding her for more than 48 hours, failed to contact the French Embassy about her status and whereabouts. It was unclear if she or any of the other detained activists have been charged with any specific crime. At the time of her arrest, Thanh Van was meeting with local democracy activists to discuss nonviolent democratic movements—a theme she frequently reported on during her radio programs, according to the CPJ source.

“We condemn the arrest of journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and her colleagues,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We are particularly concerned because this process thus far has taken place without any visible legal basis.”

Thanh Van’s arrest marks the latest in a growing government crackdown against Vietnam’s fledgling pro-democracy movement. Earlier this year scores of activists, including prominent freedom of expression defenders, were arrested and charged with anti-state crimes. The roundup commenced in March, only weeks after Vietnam successfully acceded to the World Trade Organization.   

On April 21, authorities arrested Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, an award-winning journalist and writer who was charged with violating Article 88 of the criminal code, which prohibits the dissemination of information that authorities deem harmful to the state. Thuy had posted a number of Internet essays calling for greater democracy, according to people familiar with her writings.