Vietnam’s Triet urged to fulfill promises on reform

September 25, 2009 

His Excellency Nguyen Minh Triet
President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
C/o the Permanent Mission of Vietnam
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 435
New York, NY 10017 

Via facsimile: (212)-644-5732

Dear Mr. President:

It has been nearly three years since Vietnam was accepted into the World Trade Organization and your government announced its intention to play a more prominent role in international organizations and multilateral forums. Your participation in this week’s United Nations General Assembly and your country’s scheduled assumption next year of the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are testament to Vietnam’s more engaged approach to international relations. 

Unfortunately, Vietnam’s more open diplomacy has not translated into substantive democratic reforms at home, including in the areas of press and Internet freedom. The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that defends press freedom worldwide, was alarmed by your government’s recent crackdown on online journalists and political bloggers, many of whom were detained and interrogated for their reporting.

On August 28, your security forces arrested journalist Pham Doan Trang, a reporter with the popular online news site VietnamNet, for her reporting on territorial disputes between your country and China. Internet access to several of her stories on that topic, which the state-dominated and highly censored mainstream media have shied from reporting, was blocked by your government soon after her arrest.

That same week police arrested and detained political blogger Bui Thanh Hieu, who wrote under the pen name Nguoi Buon Gio, which in English translates to “Wind Trader.” He, too, had written critical commentaries about Vietnam-China relations, as well as your government’s handling of land disputes with the Catholic Church. Our sources said that police confiscated his computers and other personal belongings during the late-night raid on his house.

Truong Huy San, a newspaper reporter who under the pen name Huy Duc maintained a popular blog known as Osin, was dismissed on August 24 from the government-run Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) soon after he had published criticism of the former Soviet Union’s crimes against humanity. It was lost on few observers that the Soviet Union was a key ally to your Communist Party-run government during the Cold War.

As part of your government’s repressive crackdown on Internet freedom, at least two other political bloggers, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who wrote as “Me Nam,” or Mother Mushroom, and another known simply as Sphinx, were temporarily detained and interrogated for their postings related to Vietnam-China relations. While all of the above named journalists have since been released, their arrests have underscored your government’s reputation as one of the world’s worst violators of Internet freedom.    

Earlier this year CPJ ranked Vietnam as one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a blogger. Our assessment stemmed in part from the jailing last year of popular blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who wrote under the name Dieu Cay, which translates to “Peasant’s Pipe” in English. Hai, who had also raised critical questions about your country’s relations with China, was sentenced to 30 months in prison on what CPJ considers trumped-up tax evasion charges. Vietnam’s poor ranking was also based on your government’s creation last October of the new Administration Agency for Radio, Television and Electronics Information, a state unit tasked specifically with monitoring the Internet for postings that could be considered critical of your government’s policies. We are currently investigating what role the new agency may have had in your recent crackdown.    

Mr. President, your government had indicated it would show greater respect for basic human rights in your negotiations with the World Trade Organization that finally facilitated your entry into the WTO. Three years later, in regard to respecting and promoting greater press freedom, it is plain to see that your government has not upheld its end of the bargain.

Vietnam has increasingly found its place on the world stage, but its anti-democratic tendencies have cast it more as an authoritarian onlooker than reliable participant. One way to change that distinction and improve your country’s image in the international community would be through a new commitment to press and Internet freedom.

Thank you for your attention to this letter. We look forward to your reply.

Joel Simon
Executive Director