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Vietnam: Crass, Shallow Trickery Aimed At U.S. Political Leaders While Human Rights Abuses Continue

By John E. Carey
September 14, 2006

The Vietnamese government is manipulating the international community by pretending they are respecting human rights by releasing a few prisoners in order to convince the United States government to approve Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) and the world to support them in accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

On August 28, 2006, Vietnam announced the release of prominent dissident and pro-democracy activist Pham Hong Son. Son was originally sentenced to five years in prison. His crime? He translated articles from the U.S. State Department web site for an online journal. The articles were titled “What is democracy?”

The August 28 announcement by Vietnam’s Vice-Minister of Public Security included details of the release of 5,313 prisoners.

Two of the prisoners ultimately released on September 2, 2006, had been convicted of “national security” offences, one of “espionage” and one of “undermining the policy of national unity.”

The vast majority of the prisoners were not considered by western experts to be valid revolutionaries or any real threat to the Communist Vietnam regime.

Scott Johnson of the Montagnard Foundation wrote to us to say, “On the eve of getting into the World Trade Organization, we see Hanoi up to its old tricks, releasing a dissident or two. While some thousands of prisoners are due to be released, how many of them are political prisoners? How many are indigenous Montagnards?”

The prisoner release looked like an opportunistic effort to woo western leaders and to encourage Vietnam’s acceptance into the WTO and the granting of PNTR by the U.S.

According to Vo Van Ai of the Buddhist Information service in Paris, there are only four prisoners of conscience out of 5,313 and he describes this “piecemeal amnesty” as a “propaganda exercise.”

Kok Ksor of the Montagnard Foundation said he has “serious doubts the Vietnamese would release the 350 Montagnards currently held in prison.”

Mr. Ksor should know, as he has a brother currently serving a seven-year jail sentence for merely trying to flee the country as a refugee. His 80-year-old mother had her ribs broken by police during an interrogation

And, despite the releases, Vietnam, just a few weeks ago, arrested a Vietnamese-born America in Vietnam to visit family members. Cong Thanh Do, 47, of San Jose, California, has been held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam without charges or access to a lawyer or anyone else from outside the Communist government since August 17, 2006.

The crime committed by Mr. Do, western observers believe, is that he has, in the past, posted pro-democracy articles on web sites.

A letter from Reporters Without Borders on September 6, 2006, stated in part, “Five people are currently imprisoned in Vietnam for having expressed democratic views on the Internet. Contrary to the claims of the Vietnamese authorities, none of them is a terrorist, criminal or spy. These men have been punished for using the Internet to publicly express their disagreement with the political line of the sole party. They are non-violent democrats.”

Subsequent to running a story about Mr. Do on the this web site, we were contacted by the family of Thuong N. Foshee.

According to her family, “On September 8, 2005 she [Mrs. Foshee] was detained by the Vietnamese government and has been in a detention center in HCMC ever since. She has not been charged with any crime, has been denied bail, has been denied a visit with an attorney, her prescription medication has been withheld and she has been denied adequate dental and medical care.”

“Like Mr. Do, she belongs to an organization in the states that advocates democracy in Vietnam. For this she has been labeled a terrorist in Vietnam just as Mr. Do has. Her detention has been arbitrary and continues with no end in sight.”

The Wall Street Journal reported widely in August on Vietnam’s wrongful detention of Dutch bank business men and women.

“But now comes the appalling treatment of staff of the Dutch bank ABN-AMRO, caught up in what even Vietnamese regulators say were legitimate business transactions. The story highlights how, for all its strides toward a market economy, this Communist state is still not always a safe place to do business. In Hanoi, Tom O’Dore, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce Vietnam, says ‘This particular case reeks of human-rights abuses.’”

After The Wall Street Journal report, the Dutch banking staff was released.

This is the same Communist government that is anxious for U.S. approval to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO), seeks Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the U.S., and expects to host President Bush at the APECs conference in Hanoi this November.

An AFP news report on September 9, 2006, said, “Two US senators have sought the personal intervention of USPresident George W. Bush to ensure that the bill granting Vietnam Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) is passed before his trip to the summit in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi in November.”

APEC stands for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

“We believe that it is imperative for US prestige in Asia that Congress, with your administration’s active support, move to consider and pass this widely-supported legislation before you join APECs 20 other leaders in Hanoi this November,” Democratic Senator Max Baucus and his Republican counterpart Gordon Smith, authors of the bill, said in the letter to Bush.

Personally, we hope everyone who reads this sends a message to Senators Baucus and Smith along with President Bush. Tell them “No APEC, no PNTR and no WTO while Do and Foshee are held.”

Just as China’s Communist government has long controlled print media, TV and the internet, Vietnam follows the Communist pattern. In Vietnam, many web sites, like that of the U.S. Department of State, are “blocked” and cannot be accessed from within Vietnam.

Yes, Vietnam has been releasing prisoners to impress the west with their “reforms of government.” Vietnam has released, in fact, more than 5 thousand prisoners; but only 4 of them are prisoners of conscience, and most of the rest are communist officers who were sentenced to jail for their “crimes of corruption.”

Unfortunately, people we know and can identify, like Cong Thanh Do and Thuong N. Foshee remain in custody, without charges, without representation, without access to medicine or visitors or pastoral care.

To be completely honest, Vietnam has tried to look more caring, loving and democratic during this current quest for WTO entry, PNTR acceptance and the run up to APEC.

American Congressmen and Senators should not be taken in by Vietnam’s crass and shallow attempts to look more “open” and “democratic.”

Mr. Carey is former president of International Defense Consultants Inc.

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