Vietnam: Release Prisoners Before More Privileges

By John E. Carey and Honglien Do

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus met to discuss “Human Rights in Vietnam” last week on Capitol Hill. Co-chaired by Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Representative Edward Royce (R-CA) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the caucus meets periodically with knowledgeable representatives of the Vietnamese-American community and others active in human rights issues for the Vietnamese people.

Vietnam is seeking entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Vietnam is also seeking U.S. Congressional approval for Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) from the U.S. The President of the United States is expected to travel to Vietnam in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference.

Yet Vietnam continues to take actions contrary to its own self interests by jailing political antagonists for “crimes” such as posting democratically themed essays on the internet.

Two of these prisoners are Cong Thanh Do and Thuong N. “Cuc” Foshee, and there are others.

Cong Thanh Do used the internet to spread “democratic” messages, a crime in Vietnam. Mr. Do is from San Jose, California. His activities, taken for granted by all Americans, came to the attention of the government of Vietnam, a government that insists upon regulating all media and information, including the internet and email. The Washington Times web site, for example, is not available to readers in Vietnam. The Washington Times is too “seditionist.”

While the United States cannot appropriately intervene and tell another nation that it must insist upon an American style of freedom of speech, American Congressmen and Senators can insist upon the release of Americans wrongly held in jails in Vietnam.

Thuong N. “Cuc” Foshee, according to her family, “was detained by the Vietnamese government and has been in a detention center in HCMC [Ho Chi Minh City, formerly, as many Vietnamese still say, Sai Gon] 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.”

Mrs. Foshee has not been charged, though she has been held since September 8, 2005.

Mrs. Foshee was also known for her internet postings of democratically inspired documents from her home in California.

Both Mr. Do and Mrs. Foshee went to Vietnam to visit elderly relatives.

When Vietnam’s current government leaders ascended to power last June, we responded with a Washington Times commentary on America’s Independence Day, July 4, 2006. “Recently, more enlightened thinking has made Vietnam an emerging economic force,” we wrote, “the news of the new leadership gives great promise.”

Now is the time for that new leadership to live up to its great promise.

Vietnam has released imprisoned persons guilty of similar “crimes.” Earlier this month Vietnam released 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 Vietnamese government is manipulating the international community by feigning partial respect for human rights. Vietnam has been releasing thousands of 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).

Scott Johnson of the Montagnard Foundation, a group that fosters understanding of the indigenous Vietnamese tribal peoples wrote, “The recent announcement by the Vietnamese government that they will release ‘some’ dissidents in a general amnesty reminds me of a conversation I had with a former U.S. State Department official about his dealings with the Soviets during the Cold War. ‘Throw them a dissident’ was what he said and he described how the Soviets would play the stalling game by keeping Western diplomatic pressure at bay for a time.”

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

Scott Johnson and Vo Van Ai are telling us what is obvious to most international observers: Vietnam’s recent prisoner release effort is window dressing designed to thrill the most shallow students of human rights. The exercise is an effort to please U.S. Congressmen and Senators without getting to the real heart of the issue: that Vietnam continues to hold political prisoners, indigenous Montagnards and others; many without charges and without rights.

While we applaud Vietnam’s granting of freedom to those formerly held in incarceration, we urge Vietnam to free the remaining victims held in prisons.

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 [people] 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.”

It is time for Vietnam to make a clean slate of its past human rights abuses. Entry into the WTO, granting of PNTR and the President of the United States’ visit during APEC all give the Vietnamese a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate fairness, forward thinking, a renewed commitment to human rights and modernity.

So we urge Vietnam to release the key political and religious prisoners it still holds, many without charges or any access to attorneys, family, medical treatment or religious advice.
And we urge U.S. Members of the House of Representatives and Senators not to move forward on PNTR for Vietnam until the release and safety of these jailed prisoners can be secured.

Before Vietnam can be considered an equal partner in world trade and economic activity, it must face the realities of the modern world.

While we welcome the prisoners recently released by the government of Vietnam, we urge Vietnam to now release those still held: prisoners such as Cong Thanh Do and Thuong N. “Cuc” Foshee.

Honglien Do escaped from Communist Vietnam after serving time in detention. Mr. Carey is former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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