Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Activists defiant as Vietnam court upholds conviction

Tue Nov 27, 2007

HANOI (Reuters) - Two jailed political activists defiantly called for multi-party democracy and more freedom of speech in one-party ruled Vietnam on Tuesday as an appeals court upheld their conviction, with slightly reduced prison terms.

Lawyers for Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, whose release has been called for by the European Union and the United States, argued before Superior Court judges in the communist-run country that their clients were peaceful and should be set free.

But the panel of judges ruled that Dai should serve four years imprisonment and four years under "administrative surveillance", or house arrest -- one year less for both parts of the sentence handed down by the Hanoi People's Court in May.

"I demand democracy, freedom and a multiparty system so that the Vietnamese people can exercise their right to freely choose the party to lead the whole country," Dai, 38, said in his statement to the court before the verdict.

There are about three million party members in the underdeveloped Southeast Asian country's population of 85 million.

The government says the two activists, both lawyers, broke the law and were not convicted for their political views.

Nhan's jail sentence was also reduced by one year to three years from four years. Her term under surveillance was reduced to three years from four years.

Bespectacled Nhan, who was wearing a red sweater over a light blue shirt, told the judges: "I believe in freedom of speech. Even now I raise my voice for freedom of speech as it is a basic freedom."

Foreign journalists and diplomats observed the five hours of proceedings in a separate room with their interpreters.

The court affirmed the lower court opinion that the two defendants had been in possession of documents or distributed documents that defamed the Communist Party and its leaders.

They were charged and convicted in May of "spreading propaganda against the state" and defaming the ruling party.

Many of Vietnam's Western trade partners and allies decried the sentences as too harsh.

In Tuesday's hearing one defence lawyer, Dang Trung Dung said, "Vietnam is a member of the World Trade Organisation and it is time it should abide by international conventions".

He said his clients "have the right to argue, to write articles".

Vietnam joined the WTO in January, part of Hanoi's policy to open the economy. However, the government is intolerant of advocates of a multiparty system and has rounded up about 30 activists this year.

Dai and Nhan are both Protestants. They advocated a multiparty system and gave legal advice to people who said authorities prevented them from practicing religion.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Viet Tan Members Arrested in Vietnam

With members inside Vietnam and around the world, Viet Tan aims to establish democracy and reform the country through peaceful means.

Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party)
www.viettan. org

November 19, 2007

Duy Hoang +1 (202) 470-1678
Chi Dang +1 (408) 228-4892

On November 17, 2007, Vietnamese security police detained members and supporters of Viet Tan in Saigon. Those arrested and taken away included:

Viet Tan members

- Dr. Nguyen, Quoc Quan, American citizen

- Ms. Nguyen, Thi Thanh Van, French citizen

- Mr. Truong, Leon (Van Ba), American citizen

Other individuals

- Mr. Nguyen, The Vu, Vietnamese citizen

- Mr. Nguyen, The Khiem, Vietnamese citizen

- Mr. Khunmi, Somsak, Thai citizen

With the exception of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan whose place of detention is currently unknown, all the individuals were arrested at a residence on Ton That Hiep street, ward 13, district 11, Saigon. They were taken initially to the public security office in district 10 and then reportedly to the main detention center in Saigon.

Before their arrest, they participated in discussions with other democracy activists on promoting peaceful democratic change. Specifically, they aspired to publicize information on successful nonviolent struggles from around the world and to use these lessons to help empower the Vietnamese people.

While it has been over 48 hours since the arrests, the families of the local residents and the embassies of the non-Vietnamese citizens have yet to be notified. Viet Tan expresses our deep concern for the safety of these six individuals. Clearly, communist Vietnam lacks the most basic judicial system and opportunity for a fair and open trial.

Information on the arrested

- Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan , born 1953, was a high-school teacher in Kien Giang province, Vietnam. He emigrated to the United States in 1981 and graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1987 with a Ph.D. in Mathematics. He specialized in research on Machine Translation from English to Vietnamese. A co-founder of the Vietnamese Professionals Society, he is married with two children and a resident of Sacramento, California.

- Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh Van , born 1956, was a university student in France and settled there after the communist takeover of Vietnam in 1975. She is active in the overseas Vietnamese-language media, having served on the editorial staff of the monthly Viet Nam Dan Chu (Vietnam Democracy). Under the pen name Thanh Thao, she is a key correspondent for Radio Chan Troi Moi, Viet Tan's nightly broadcast inside Vietnam. She is married and a resident of Paris, France.

- Mr. Truong Van Ba, born 1953, emigrated to the United States in 1979. He operated a food catering truck while devoting most of his time as a community activist. He has two children living in the United States and two grown children in Vietnam. He is a resident of Honolulu, Hawaii.

- Mr. Nguyen The Vu, born 1977, is a citizen of Vietnam and employed as a sales executive. The arrest on November 17, 2007 occurred at his home in district 11, Saigon. He is married.

- Mr. Nguyen The Khiem, born 1989, is a citizen of Vietnam and college student. He is the younger brother of Nguyen The Vu and was arrested for sharing the same residence in Saigon.

- Mr. Somsak Khunmi, born 1949, is a Thai citizen residing in Ubon, Thailand.

While these individuals may have different backgrounds and reside in different countries, they are Vietnamese patriots who share a common dream to establish democracy and reform the country. Their activities and those of all Viet Tan members center on principles of nonviolent struggle to mobilize the power of the people against a dictatorship that uses violence as a means of suppression.

In the face of these arrests, Viet Tan calls on:

- Vietnamese inside and outside the country, in the spirit of unity and shared goal, to pressure the communist government to cease the acts of repression, terror, and imprisonment against peaceful democracy activists from inside and outside the country.

- The Vietnamese communist government to honor international covenants and immediately provide to the embassies and families of the arrested their exact whereabouts and condition.

- The Vietnamese communist government to respect the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially freedom of speech, and immediately release all the above individuals as their only activity was to peacefully express their support for freedom and democracy.

- The American, French and Thai embassies to request the Vietnamese authorities to provide information on the whereabouts and personal safety of the respective nationals of these countries, and to visit these nationals while they are in jail to ensure their safety and well-being.

For the last two decades, Viet Tan has faced countless challenges. Committed to establishing democracy and reforming the country, our members are resolute before this most recent challenge. Viet Tan will continue to be an active participant in Vietnam's democracy movement and to work for the freedom of all political prisoners in Vietnam.

Vietnam's Human Rights Record Subject of Congressional Hearing

By Dan Robinson
07 November 2007

Human rights in Vietnam was the subject of a congressional hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill. U.S.-based Vietnamese democracy groups and human rights organizations urged Congress and the Bush administration to take stronger steps to pressure Hanoi to release political prisoners and end suppression of religious freedoms. A report from VOA congressional correspondent Dan Robinson.

The hearing in the House foreign affairs human rights subcommittee was the latest effort by lawmakers to focus attention on the human rights situation in Vietnam.

William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat and the panel chairman, noted that despite having won Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the United States, which is now Vietnam's largest export market, and Vietnam's admission to the World Trade Organization, repression there continues.

Two Democrats representing substantial numbers of Vietnamese-Americans, and a Republican who has become the sharpest critic of Hanoi's human rights policies, appeared as witnesses.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California is sponsoring proposed legislation to withdraw Vietnam's favorable trade status with the U.S. unless Hanoi releases all political and religious prisoners and takes significant steps to reform its human rights policies:

"We have seen the consequences of these disastrous actions," said Zoe Lofgren. "We lost our leverage on human rights reform in Vietnam."

Chris Smith, a Republican and author of the Vietnam Human Rights Act approved by the House earlier this year by a vote of 414 to 3, says hopes for progress in Vietnam were dashed by the Hanoi government's crackdown.

"Much of that hope and expectation however came crashing down earlier this year as Hanoi instituted a new sweeping barbaric wave of arrests, beating, bogus trials and incarcerations," said Chris Smith.

Representing the State Department, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Marciel said human rights remains a high priority for the United States in contacts with Vietnam, as Washington continues to raise specific cases of political or religious prisoners with the Hanoi government.

While describing the Vietnamese government crackdown on dissidents this year as appalling, Marciel defends the State Department's decision to remove Vietnam last year from a list of countries not making progress on religious freedom:

"There was no way of defending that, it is unacceptable," said Scott Marciel. "It was not a crackdown on religious freedom. Still horrible, still a human rights problem absolutely. But on religious freedom itself we are not seeing steps backward we are seeing further steps forward, that is the argument."

Among other witnesses were democracy activists in the United States and representatives of two human rights organizations.

Sophie Richardson, Deputy Director of the Asia Program of Human Rights Watch says that despite the government's repeal of one former law, another was put in its place supporting detention without trial:

"While administrative detention decree 31CP was indeed repealed as we heard earlier in 2007, a more repressive law, Ordinance 44, authorizes placing people suspected of threatening national security under house arrest or in detention without trial in social protection centers, rehabilitation camps or mental hospitals," said Sophie Richardson.

Other witnesses included Cong Thanh Do, who was detained for 38 days by Vietnamese authorities who cited his pro-democracy articles on the Internet written from his home in California.

Duy (Dan) Hoang, of the Viet Tan Party, launched by overseas Vietnamese to promote peaceful democratic political reform, says Vietnamese government controls over the media pose a major obstacle to reforms:

"The Vietnamese government exercises a monopoly over the media to control information, to restrict the free exchange of ideas, and to cover up its own corruption and misdeeds," said Hoang. "And to censor the Internet the government employs firewalls, spies in Internet cafes, and threatens bloggers. So it is really critical that Congress support independent sources of information such as Radio Free Asia."

In Tuesday's hearing, Congressman Chris Smith said he hopes his Vietnam Human Rights Act, which has been blocked in the U.S. Senate, can move forward to eventual approval by Congress.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Increases in Vietnam Aid Tied to Human Rights Improvements

(CNSNews.com) - Vietnamese pro-democracy activists have welcomed the passage of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that ties future increases in U.S. non-humanitarian aid to Hanoi to verifiable improvements in its human rights record.

The Vietnam Human Rights Act, passed by a 414-3 vote Tuesday, also authorizes $4 million over two years for groups promoting human rights and nonviolent democratic change in Vietnam, and another $10-plus million towards efforts to overcome the government's jamming of Radio Free Asia.

It requires the State Department to issue an annual report on the progress of human rights reform in Vietnam and the president will also have to confirm that Vietnamese officials are not involved in human trafficking. Humanitarian aid is not affected.

"This important vote by the Congress tells the Vietnamese Communist Party that there is a price to pay for the ongoing human rights crackdown," Duy Hoang, a U.S.-based representative of an underground opposition party, Viet Tan, told Cybercast News Service.

"The Hanoi communist regime can try to deny imprisoning people for their peaceful beliefs, but these lies only underscore the repressive nature of the regime," he said.

Hoang said Vietnamese-Americans would focus their lobbying efforts on the Senate, to have the legislation become law.

Founded in 1982 Viet Tan -- the Vietnamese Reform Party -- says it has members inside Vietnam and among Vietnamese communities around the world.

Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who sponsored the legislation, said on the House floor Tuesday that the human rights situation in Vietnam has deteriorated in recent months, and that "a new, ugly wave of brutal repression has been launched by Hanoi."

In a statement, Smith cited the case of Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest and former prisoner of conscience. Ly was arrested earlier this year and on March 30 was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for distributing anti-government material and communicating with pro-democracy activists abroad. Ly served as an advisor to a nascent democracy movement called Block 8406 - a reference to its launch date of April 8, 2006.

Tuesday's vote comes after a series of developments viewed as setbacks by opponents of the communist government, including the normalizing of U.S. trade ties with Vietnam ahead of its World Trade Organization accession, and an administration decision to remove it from a list of "countries of particular concern" (CPC) for severe religious freedom abuses.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent panel set up to advise the executive and legislative branches, has urged the administration to keep Vietnam on the CPC list, a designation that provides for a variety of steps against rights-violating governments, including sanctions.

Smith in his floor speech noted the USCIRF's assessment that Vietnam's removal from the blacklist had been premature.

He said the move to delist it "was part of an effort, I think, of suggesting that if they just got into the World Trade Organization, somehow they would matriculate from dictatorship to democracy. Regrettably, that has not happened."

The Montagnard Foundation, a U.S.-based organization representing the predominantly Christian Montagnard minority in Vietnam's Central Highlands, appealed to the American government this month to return Vietnam to the CPC list, citing new cases of arrests and harassment.

Last Friday, the State Department's ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, John Hanford, cited Vietnam as an example of a successful U.S. effort to engage foreign countries on religious freedom -- although he did acknowledge that progress "has slowed."

Hanford said the department believed that in most cases where groups are still banned or leaders under house arrest, it was the result not of religious activity, but of political views expressed publicly by religious leaders.

"We, of course, believe in their freedom to do that, but we believe that the restrictions that they're placed under are not the result of their religious practices."

Smith has twice before piloted similar legislation through the House, but on both previous occasions the measures were not taken up by the Senate. He urged senators "not to allow economic or other interests to obstruct" the latest effort.

Last June, Bush hosted Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Minh Triet at the White House, and said, "In order for relations to grow deeper, it's important for our friends to have a strong commitment to human rights and freedom and democracy."

The three lawmakers who voted against Smith's bill Tuesday were Reps. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Ron Paul of Texas -- both long-shot candidates for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination -- and Rep. Jeff Flake or Arizona, also a Republican.

Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article.

House ties Vietnam aid to human rights

By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press Writer

Future increases in U.S. nonhumanitarian aid to Vietnam would be tied to improvements in the Hanoi government's human rights record under legislation approved by the House Tuesday.

Supporters of the legislation, passed 414-3, said it was in response to Vietnam's recent crackdown on citizens speaking out for political, religious and human rights.

"Sadly, in recent months, the human rights situation in Vietnam has deteriorated and become substantially worse and a new ugly wave of brutal oppression has been launched by Hanoi," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., sponsor of the legislation.

He said the Vietnam government has tracked down and jailed many of the people who last year signed a declaration outlining humanitarian and human rights aspirations for the country.

The legislation, which must still be considered by the Senate, prohibits any increase in nonhumanitarian assistance to Vietnam over fiscal year 2007 levels unless the president certifies that Vietnam has made significant progress in its human rights record. The president must also confirm that Vietnamese officials are not involved in human trafficking.

The Congressional Research Service has estimated that the United States this year is providing Vietnam with about $8 to 12 million in nonhumanitarian aid.

The measure also approves the spending of $4 million over two years to help individuals and organizations that are promoting human rights and nonviolent democratic change in Vietnam. Another $10.2 million is set aside for measures to stop Vietnam's jamming of Radio Free Asia.

It states that it is U.S. policy to offer resettlement to Vietnam nationals, including members of the Montagnard group, who are eligible for refugee programs but were previously denied entry because of administrative error or other circumstances beyond their control.

Voting against the bill were Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona, Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Ron Paul of Texas.


The bill is H.R. 3096


On the Net:

Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov/

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Court Cuts Jail Terms of 3 Vietnamese Activists

A Vietnamese appeals court reduced the sentences to three men convicted and jailed in May for spreading "propaganda against the state". (Reuters)

A Vietnamese appeals court on Friday reduced the sentences handed to three men who were convicted and jailed in May for spreading "propaganda against the state" and forming a political party.

A lawyer for one of the defendants said the court in Ho Chi Minh City ruled that Le Nguyen Sang, 48, a doctor, should serve four years instead of five years.

The trial in May was one of four this year in one-party ruled Vietnam of political activists who called for a multi-party system and greater freedom of speech, mostly over the Internet.

The sentence of businessman Nguyen Bac Truyen, 39, was reduced to three years from four years and another businessman, Huynh Nguyen Dao, 39, to two years from three years, said Truyen's lawyer Trinh Vinh Phuc.

The court concluded that the actions of the three men did not lead to any tangible consequences, the lawyer said.

At their Ho Chi Minh City People's Court trial in May, the three men were accused of using the Internet "to sow discontent among the public" and creating the People's Democratic Party to organise protests, including during last November's visit of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The outlawed People's Democratic Party is one of a few that emerged last year and carried information, mostly on the Internet, calling for alternatives to one-party rule in Vietnam.

Prosecutors linked the defendants to a Vietnamese-born U.S. citizen, Cong Thanh Do of San Jose, California, who was expelled from communist-run Vietnam last September. Do was accused of advocating the government's overthrow.

The People's Democratic Party, in an email received on Friday, called for the release of the three men and others under detention.
The Vietnam government says it does not charge people for their political views, only those who break the law. It is a criminal offence in Vietnam to disseminate views the government considers anti-state or opposed to the ruling Communist Party.

Hanoi rejects accusations by Western human rights groups of cracking down on dissidents after it successfully hosted an Asia-Pacific summit, won World Trade Organisation membership and was removed from a U.S. religious rights blacklist in 2006.

Vietnam newsletter says 'under attack'

HANOI, Aug 17, 2007 (AFP) - The Australian publisher of an email newsletter in communist Vietnam said Friday the media company was "under official attack" after carrying news articles with political content.

Police in Hanoi have investigated www.intellasia.com for allegedly operating without a proper license while a state-controlled newspaper Friday accused it of spreading "illegal" and "reactionary" content.

"Intellasia has been a very active promoter of investing in Vietnam for many years now," Australian proprietor Jonathan Leech said in an online statement. "But unfortunately today, August 17, Intellasia is under official attack."

The publication -- which has a Hanoi office and emails digests of mainly financial but also general news -- said they had been subject to "six weeks of harassment and interrogation."

State media reports said Intellasia "illegally operates a website without a license," and they showed images of the site carrying news agency reports, some about court trials of Vietnamese political dissidents.

The police-run newspaper An Ninh Thu Do said: "For years, the website has operated illegally and posted many distorted and reactionary articles about Vietnam's politics, human rights and democracy."

It said the business license granted by the Hanoi Department of Planning and Investment only allowed it to operate "in the fields of advertising, commerce, market news provision, consultancy for information and informatics sector."

Leech, the proprietor and editor, said the website is run from a US-based server, its content is managed by a US company, and it is "owned and operated by two Australians, one in Vietnam and the other in Australia."

"Intellasia has always endeavoured to present a fair picture of what is happening in Vietnam during the good and lean times over the years," Leech wrote. "But now that the country has joined the WTO (World Trade Organisation), things have suddenly reverted ominously."

"This is a very dark day for what should be a civilised country to operate in," wrote Leech. "And it should be noted that any foreigner or foreign organisation here in Vietnam that also operates a website abroad could at any time suddenly find themselves in a similar position of persecution."

US envoy leaving Vietnam calls rights issue disappointing

The outgoing US ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Marine, on Thursday said a lack of progress on human rights in the communist country was the biggest disappointment of his three-year tenure.

"I wish I could say it's improving, but I can't," he told his final media briefing in Hanoi. "Perhaps my biggest disappointment here is that we've not been able to expand the space for political dialogue in Vietnam."

Vietnam, a one-party-state, this year jailed a number of political activists who had called for non-violent political change toward a multi-party democracy, drawing protests from the United States and other countries.

Rallies dogged a June US visit by President Nguyen Minh Triet, the first to the United States by a Vietnamese state leader since the war ended in 1975.

Marine said religious freedoms had recently been expanded in Vietnam but he added: "If we are talking about the ability of people to engage in political activism, I can't be as positive, and in fact I'm a bit discouraged."

He pledged that the United States would keep up the human rights dialogue with Vietnam under his successor Michael Michalak, due to arrive this month.

"We have a long-term commitment to this, it is in Vietnam's interest for this to happen, and I believe it will happen," he said. "The question is when."

Vietnam's government says it does not punish dissidents, only people who break its laws, including the charge of spreading propaganda against the state, under which several dissidents were imprisoned this year.

Marine said: "To the extent that we are able to understand the Vietnamese legal system, there are laws on the books that allow the authorities to move against people for expressing their opinions, for organising in any way and for calling for political change.

"Those are fundamental human rights that I strongly believe are universal and should be enjoyed by the people of Vietnam."

The ambassador praised growing bilateral trade relations that were fully normalised last year, weeks before Vietnam -- an economy now growing at over 8 percent a year -- joined the World Trade Organisation in January.

"Economically, Vietnam is making major strides forward," said Marine. "The value of US-Vietnam two-way trade will exceed 10 billion dollars this year.

"The United States is Vietnam's top export market and its fourth largest foreign investor, and Vietnam expects to attract at least 15 billion dollars in foreign direct investment commitments this year."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Vietnamese police break up land protest after 27 days

Author : DPA

Hanoi - Vietnamese police in riot gear broke up a demonstration of hundreds of people in Ho Chi Minh City who were demanding compensation for their seized land, witnesses said Thursday. After tolerating the long-running protest for 27 days, armed police moved in late Wednesday night to the tented camp outside the National Assembly offices, forcing the protesters onto buses bound for their home provinces. One of the protesters said the dispersing was peaceful.

"Police yanked down all the tents, banners and signs. They ushered groups of protesters onto one bus until it was full and then they started filling the second bus," a protester named Sinh told New Horizon radio.

"They did not have to beat anyone because no one had the strength to resist," Sinh added.

The crackdown came on eve of the National Assembly's scheduled session and a day after prominent dissident monk Thich Quang Do visited the protest and called for an end to the Communist Party's sole rule.

The demonstration of more than 500 people was the longest-running protest in Vietnam for years and had been publicized by overseas opposition groups as a sign of discontent with communist rule.

The protesters - from several Mekong Delta provinces - were demanding compensation for land that had been confiscated by local officials for development projects.

Signs and banners at the demonstrations accused local officials of "betraying the [Communist] Party and cheating the people." Other banners appealed directly to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to "save the people."

Land protests have become more common in Vietnam , with state media saying property disputes account for 85 per cent of complaints against the government.

On Tuesday, dissident Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do made a rare public appearance to support the demonstration and urged the protesters to also demand multi-party democracy.

Thich Quang Do, the deputy leader of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), delivered 300 million Vietnamese dong (about 20,000 dollars) to the demonstrators on Tuesday for food.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vietnam hit by mass land protests

A mass protest over the Vietnamese government's land policies is gathering force, ahead of the opening session of the newly-elected National Assembly.

Witnesses say hundreds of peasants from the Mekong River Delta are surrounding the offices of the National Assembly in Ho Chi Minh City.

A smaller protest is also reportedly being held in the capital, Hanoi.

The protesters are demanding the return of their land, and for any wrongdoing by local officials to be punished.

Both protests have been going on relatively peacefully for several weeks, and received little coverage in the local media.

However, as the protest in Ho Chi Minh - Vietnam's second city and the main economic hub - has hotted up in the last few days, residents have started complaining about traffic disruption.

Land protests are not unseen in Vietnam, but correspondents say a demonstration of this scale and intensity is rare.

Frequent complaints

Security forces have begun to get involved to make sure the protest does not get out of control.

Local officials in the Mekong Delta provinces have been urged to come to Ho Chi Minh City to "persuade their people to go home", with promises that their complaints will be dealt with appropriately.

Meanwhile, a deputy minister of security was quoted by state media as saying that there had been a certain involvement of "reactionary forces overseas".

Last Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong called an urgent meeting with provincial leaders.

He asked for a prompt investigation into the case and warned that the Communist Party would not tolerate inappropriate measures.

Land seizures in the name of economic development have been a much-debated topic in Vietnam, where the state maintains the sole ownership of land.

Peasants frequently complain about unfair compensation and criticise the laws on land use, which in their opinion have too many loopholes and are easily abused by corrupt local government officials.

The new 500-strong Vietnam National Assembly, elected last May, is to begin its first session on Thursday in Hanoi.

With the mass protest intensifying outside, the deputies will no doubt have many things to debate.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Vietnamese peasants protest over land policy,graft

HO CHI MINH CITY, July 11 (Reuters) Scores of peasant farmers have protested for three weeks outside a Vietnamese government building over land appropriation for development, one of the longest-running demonstrations of its kind in Vietnam.

Some protesters accuse provincial officials of corruptly taking money from developers riding a boom in an economy that is one of the world's fastest-growing after China, but which is also showing signs of widening the gap between rich and poor.

For the past decade, small landowners from the provinces have gone to the main urban centres of Ho Chi Minh City and the capital, Hanoi, complaining that the communist-run government had failed to pay them adequate compensation for their land.

A report by the Mekong Economics consultancy said a ''concern is that a significant elite class in urban and some rural areas has emerged.

''Most Vietnamese want to be wealthy, and this is certainly not a crime,'' it said. ''But if wealth often comes or is perceived to often come from networks of patronage and corruption, that can lead to social instability.'' Demonstrations take place under police scrutiny and have been mostly peaceful, although there was one reported case of self-immolation by an elderly woman in Hanoi in 2005.

For the past week, groups of demonstrators have camped out in a park in Hanoi as the Communist Party Central Committee held a plenary session on administrative reforms. Next week, the newly elected National Assembly opens an inaugural session.

One woman demonstrator, Huynh Thi Trong from the far southern province of Ben Tre, said her dispute was with local council officials she accused of taking her 15,000 square metres of land.

NO SETTLEMENT ''I have sent petitions but there have been no invitations to settle this matter, so I came to Hanoi,'' Trong wrote in documents to officials, copies of which she handed out in the park.

In Ho Chi Minh City, farmers sat or lay in 32 degree Celsius (90 F) heat and humidity under red, white and blue tarpaulin sheets strung up at the door of a National Assembly office.

The protesters, from seven provinces, have tied a row of red and gold-starred Vietnamese flags, red and white banners and a portrait of independence leader Ho Chi Minh along a fence in front of the building. They began their protest three weeks ago on June 22, a spokeswoman for Viet Tan, an overseas Vietnamese organisation backing them said.

Usually such protests last only a few days days.

The demonstration northwest of central Saigon was closely monitored by uniformed and plainclothes police on a busy street that has a church and shops repairing motorbikes and selling floor tiles and other goods.

Police politely asked a Reuters reporter to leave the scene.

''The government says what these people are doing is not good and you should leave,'' a uniformed policeman said in English.

The issue of re-appropriation of land and the demonstrations is sensitive enough that it is not routinely reported in Vietnamese media, which are all state-run.

But a front-page article yesterday in the Ho Chi Minh City Police newspaper said the Government Inspectorate had sent notices to officials in the north-eastern city of Haiphong and 10 provinces ''on settling with the situation of people gathered in large groups in Hanoi'' and to prevent such gatherings.

It said the provincial officials ''needed to be proactive in sending authorised officials to coordinate with central-level organs to receive and ask people to come back to their locality for settlement.'' The spokeswoman for Viet Tan, the US-based party that is outlawed in Vietnam, wrote in an e-mail that the group had given support to peasant demonstrators in the past.

''We help them on the logistics, they are basically homeless when they go to Hanoi and Saigon because they have no money,'' she said. ''Many of these farmers are illiterate so we help them with procedures as well.'' She said between 800 and 1,000 people had taken part in the Ho Chi Minh City demonstration and some had been arrested.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Vietnam orders provinces to prevent protests by hearing complaints

Hanoi - Vietnam 's government has ordered officials in 11 northern provinces to stop a growing trend of public protests by deploying inspectors and meeting with citizens about their grievances. A directive sent by telegraph was aimed at preventing demonstrations from disrupting the ongoing Communist Party Central Committee meeting and next week's opening of the National Assembly session in Hanoi .

"Quite a few large groups of people, well organized, have converged to and gathered at the state and government offices, and private residences of party and state leaders, causing social disorder in Hanoi," reads the directive, signed by General Chief Inspector Tran Van Truyen.

The order sent out Saturday directs provincial leaders to monitor dissatisfaction among the populace to prevent disgruntled farmers and others with grievances from taking their complaints to the central government.

"Do not let people to gather in huge crowds in Hanoi ," Truyen said in the message, published on the official government website, which specifically mentions the Central Committee and National Assembly meetings as potential targets for demonstrations.

"Be active in finding the real situation of what's happening, checking all of the unsolved cases so as to deal with it in compliance with the law and regulation," the message read.

Once rare in the one-party state, small public protests over land rights and allegations of corruption have become more common in Vietnam in recent years.

In Ho Chi Minh City , hundreds of people protesting the seizure of their lands for development projects have been camping out in front of the local National Assembly office since June 22.

The demonstrations have been heavily covered by New Horizon radio, a broadcaster linked to overseas Vietnamese groups that call for the Communist Party to give up its monopoly on power. New Horizon also reported at least 100 people protesting land seizures in the southern Mekong Delta province of Can Tho .

Unauthorized public demonstrations are officially banned in Vietnam and police in the past have broken up demonstrations in Hanoi and elsewhere.

The recent government directive made no mention of a coming crackdown, instead urging provincial officials to "persuade" demonstrators to go home.

"Any provinces that have people gathering to file complaints and petition to the central level, the provincial People's Committee must send authorized officials with full responsibility ... to meet and persuade their people to go back to the province for resolution," the directive read.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Today's Dissidents are Tomorrow's Democratic Leaders

Here's a very moving slideshow by Viet Tan:


Monday, July 9, 2007

Vietnam: Hundreds Protest Over Land Disputes, Corruption In Southern Vietnam

HANOI, VIETNAM: Hundreds of people are camping out near a government building in southern Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City to protest alleged corruption and unfair compensation for their land, taken for infrastructure projects, police said Saturday (July 7th).

Protesters from nine southern provinces have converged since June 22th in front of the representative office of the lawmaking National Assembly, said a police officer in Phu Nhuan District. He declined to give his name, citing policy.

"They have set up tents on the pavements, hung up banners and placards demanding fair compensation for their land and denouncing local corruption," the officer said.

He said police were deployed to help keep order and control traffic.

The officer said that leaders of some provinces where the protesters came from had tried to persuade them to go home, but that most of them did not back down.

Saturday's Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted deputy government inspector Le Tien Hao as saying senior government inspectors have been sent to the provinces to urge the provincial leaders to resolve the disputes.

Scenes of people gathering at government buildings to demand better compensation for confiscated land have become common in Vietnam.

Hundreds of hectares (acres) of land are being taken each year for industrial parks and other infrastructure projects.

Several people have been brought to court for attacking authorities in land disputes in recent years. (AP)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Land protest in Vietnam set to enter second week

Hanoi - Hundreds of Vietnamese demonstrators are entering their second week of land protests in Ho Chi Minh City, supporters and a government official said Friday. The farmers from seven southern provinces are protesting a decision by their local officials to appropriate land they were living and working on for development.

Supporters in the overseas Vietnamese community said the protests have grown to 1,000 people.

However, Pham Thi Phuong Lien, chief administrator of the National Assembly office where the demonstrations have been held, estimated the number at just more than 200.

"The protestors want to use their demonstration as pressure on the provincial and local authorities to solve their land rights issues that were not properly handled by the authorities," Lien said.

Lien said the government has sent inspectors headed by Mai Quoc Binh, deputy chief of the Government Inspectorate, to hear the people's petitions.

Radio New Horizon, a station run by the overseas Vietnamese group Viet Tan, has reported demonstrators being followed and harassed by plainclothes police. Lien, however, insisted police were only there to ensure security for the demonstrators.

Small protests complaining of unjust land seizures have become commonplace in Vietnam with many demonstrators alleging corrupt officials are pocketing money from developers but underpaying farmers for the land they lost.

It is unusual for protests to last longer than a few days.