May 13, 2008
President Nguyen Minh Triet
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Office of the State
1 Bach Thao
Via facsimile: +84 4 823-1872
Dear President Nguyen,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by the recent spate of arrests, detentions, and trials of journalists in Vietnam. Even though Article 69 of your country’s constitution broadly protects press freedom and freedom of expression, your government has continued to use criminal and national security laws to arbitrarily stifle these essential freedoms.
There are several current cases that are cause for our concern:
Somsak Khunmi, a long-time news assistant and contributor to Chan Troi Moi (Radio New Horizon) was sentenced today to nine months in prison and three years probation following a six-hour trial today on terrorism charges at the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City. He was first detained on November 17 along with French-Vietnamese reporter Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and a group of political activists associated with the pro-democracy Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party). At the time, he was working as a sound recordist for Radio New Horizon. Nguyen was released in December after international pressure.
Authorities say Somsak, a Thai citizen whose Vietnamese name is Nguyen Quoc Hai, attempted to distribute pro-democracy fliers in violation of Article 84, Section 3 of Vietnam’s penal code. But we are concerned that his detention has more to do with his and Nguyen’s reporting on an earlier protest held in Ho Chi Minh City by aggrieved farmers who had been pushed off their land by state authorities.
On Monday, Nguyen Van Hai and Nguyen Viet Chien, who work respectively for the Vietnamese-language daily newspapers Tuoi Tre (Youth) and Thanh Nien (Young People), were arrested and imprisoned. The two local reporters were instrumental in breaking news in 2006 about the “PMU-18” scandal, in which senior transport ministry officials allegedly embezzled state funds to wager on international football matches. The officials eventually stepped down. At the time, the case was seen as a possible indicator of your government’s acceptance of a freer role for the media. Now, the two journalists have been charged with “abuse of power” and could be held for as long as four months while authorities conduct their investigations, according to news reports.
A third case of concern is the April 29 arrest of a U.S. citizen, Le Hong Thien, who was apprehended by security police in Ho Chi Minh City while covering the Olympic torch relay. Thien is the U.S.-based editor of the Gia Dinh, according to a joint statement released by both publications. He is also a contributor to the Japan- and U.S.-based Chan Troi Moi, which is broadcast on AM and heard throughout Vietnam.
According to the publications’ statement, Thien has been interrogated for several days by police and is currently being held under house arrest at his brother’s home in Saigon. Police have also confiscated his passport even though no formal charges have been lodged against him.
President Nguyen, Vietnam has continued to detain, harass, and jail journalists, and stifle reporting critical of the government. We call on you to reverse these policies as Vietnam enlarges its role on the world stage, and work to promote and protect–rather than undermine–the basic democratic principles of press freedom and freedom of expression.
Thank you for your attention. We anticipate your prompt reply.