French journalist released in Vietnam

New York, December 13, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from detention on Wednesday of French journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, who was arrested on November 17 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, along with a group of three political activists associated with the pro-democracy Viet Tan Party.

Thanh Van, a journalist for the exile-run monthly Viet Nam Dan Chu (Vietnam Democracy) and a regular contributor to the Japan- and U.S.-based Chan Troi Moi (Radio New Horizon) radio program, was held for 25 days without charge in Saigon’s main detention center. A resident of Paris, she is more popularly known by her pen name, Thanh Thao.

“We are relieved that Nguyen Thi Thanh Van has been released from government custody,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “At the same time, Thanh Van’s extended detention without charge underscores the drastic need for legal and procedural reform in Vietnam, particularly in connection with upholding press freedom.”

Thanh Van left Vietnam on an evening flight on Wednesday which was scheduled to arrive in Paris this morning, according to a statement released today by the Viet Tan Party.

She and the other activists were held under Article 84 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, which involves terrorism-related crimes and allows for a four-month detention of suspects. In a meeting in prison with French consular officials on November 30, Thanh Van said that her detention period has been extended to eight months, according to a Viet Tan Party representative who communicated with CPJ.

During her detention, Thanh Van was frequently accused of terrorism in the state-run media and was shown on a state-controlled television station reenacting, under the watch of security officials, her alleged involvement in distributing political fliers calling for nonviolent democratic change. Before she was detained, she had reported for Radio New Horizon about aggrieved farmers who had recently been pushed off their land by state authorities and gathered to protest in Ho Chi Minh City.

Earlier this year, scores of Vietnamese political activists, including prominent freedom of expression defenders, were arrested and charged with anti-state crimes. The crackdown included the April 21 arrest of Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, an award-winning journalist and writer who was charged with disseminating information harmful to the state. Thuy had posted a number of essays over the Internet calling for more democracy in Vietnam.