Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Vietnam's crackdown creates watershed

Date: Tuesday 20 March 2007
Subj: Vietnam's crackdown creates watershed
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

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VIETNAM'S CRACKDOWN CREATES WATERSHED
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The Vietnam government's crackdown against human rights and democracy advocates (many of whom are Christians acting upon their religious beliefs) is not hidden nor is it subtle. It is bold, challenging and hugely significant. It creates a watershed, especially for the US. Through a wave of harassments, arrests and criminal charges against human rights and democracy advocates engaged in peaceful and perfectly legal activities, Vietnam is openly showing its hand and waiting to see if anyone will challenge, or if everyone will fold.

CONGRESSMEN SPEAK OUT

Several US Congressmen, including Chris Smith, Frank Wolf, Ed Royce and Dana Rohrabacher, are speaking out against the crackdown. Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) has introduced a resolution condemning the recent arrests and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of dissidents. According to Voice of America (VOA), "The measure warns that ongoing harassment, detentions and arrests will harm the broadening of ties with the U.S., and result in Vietnam being put back on a list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for severe and ongoing violations of religious freedom." (Link 1)

Congressman Smith told a press conference, "'I have been to Vietnam and met with Father Ly, Nguyen Van Dai and over 60 other dissidents. These are smart, talented and kind people -- some of Vietnam's best and brightest. They harbor no malice toward the government. They only want a better future for their country. These individuals are the Vaclav Havels of Vietnam. Their
incarcerations -- under a bogus Soviet-era article -- are meant to harass, intimidate and keep them from bringing about peaceful change. Their arrests cannot and should not stand,' Smith said.

"Smith also noted that the State Department's removal of Vietnam's Country of Particular Concern (CPC) designation is not permanent. 'The U.S. should consider reinstating Vietnam's CPC designation in light of the regime's recent actions. Nothing precludes us from putting them back on that list. We can and should put them back on tomorrow if the regime does not take immediate action to improve human rights conditions in Vietnam,' said Smith." (Link 2)

If the US State Department does not respond to Vietnam's overt repression of faith-motivated human rights and democracy advocates, then the US State Department will be giving tacit endorsement to a false and unsustainable dichotomy whereby freedom to believe is separated from freedom to exercise/act upon that belief. This would seriously undermine much of what the US administration has been working towards over the past decade with regards to the promotion of religious liberty in the world.

UPDATE ON NGUYEN VAN DAI

Lawyer Dai, his female associate Le thi Cong Nhan, and Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly are charged with violating Article 88 of the Criminal Code by "propagandising against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam". According to sources, one of the accusations levelled against Nguyen van Dai is that he has "consorted with certain extremist elements to gather what is called 'evidence that Vietnam suppresses religion' to distribute to enemy forces and to reactionaries residing abroad".

Two days before his 6 March arrest Nguyen van Dai spoke to an FNA (Free News Agency) reporter in Hanoi. (Link 3)

FNA reports that not only was Lawyer Dai's law office and home raided by police but on 28 February, in response to police pressure, the Business Registration Office of Hanoi's Planning and Investment Bureau cancelled the permit of TNHH Translation and Legal Consultation Firm of which Mr Nguyen Van Dai is a co-founder and the executive director.

Lawyer Dai told FNA that his activities as a lawyer include providing legal assistance to the majority of the country's human rights and democracy activists. As such his work has angered the Communist authorities who have responded by placing him under close surveillance, summonsing him frequently for interrogation, monitoring and even cutting his phone lines.

When asked about the charge of violating Article 88 of the Criminal Code, Dai responded by saying that under Vietnam's Constitution citizens had the legal right to access, store and study information. Only documents that oppose the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government by instigating violent and illegal armed action would be considered to be in violation of the law. Nguyen van Dai, who is a member of Advocates International and Advocates Asia, is convinced he has not stepped outside the bounds of the law.

Lawyer Dai told the FNA that as long as Vietnam did not have freedom or democracy then he would use his legal profession to defend religious and pro-democracy activists. "It seems that the Communist authorities are doing their best to train and turn me into a professional political activist," says Dai. "They do not want me to operate as a lawyer specialised in human rights and religious freedom.

"Should the Communist authorities illegally take away my right to do business and to practice my profession, I would still have a range of options to consider, but it would appear that everybody including the Communists is wishing to see me become a politician mobilising the masses and directly struggling for the democratisation of Vietnam. Deep down, I have always wanted to just be a human rights lawyer, but historical circumstances seem to be steering me in another direction. I still have time to pray to God for his guidance in my final decision. Whatever my action I always wish to be encouraged and supported by the people inside the country, compatriots living overseas and the international community. The Vietnamese people's struggle for freedom and democracy is far from over and will still encounter many difficulties. However, as the path of truth and righteousness, it will receive the undivided support of the people and the support from the international community and will undoubtedly meet with success."

On 13 March the state-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported that Nguyen van Dai and Le thi Cong Nhan's names had been removed from the Ha Noi Bar Association and accordingly the Thien An Lawyers' Office was no longer eligible to operate. VNA claims that initial investigations have shown "that since 2004, Nguyen Van Dai took advantage of the State's permission to establish the Thien An Lawyers' Office and the Viet Luat [Translation and Legal Consultation] company to spread propaganda, lure forces and collude with political opportunists as well as hostile forces at home and abroad which oppose the State. Their acts run counter to the interests of the nation and people." (Link 4)

It has been confirmed that Nguyen van Dai is on a hunger strike.

Elizabeth Kendal WEA RLC


Links

1) US Lawmakers Warn Vietnam on Crackdown on Dissidents
By Dan Robinson, Capitol Hill. 14 March 2007
http://www.voanews.com/english/2007-03-14-voa91.cfm

2) Smith Calls on Vietnamese Government to Immediately Release Political
Prisoners. 15 March 2007
http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/03-15-2007/0004547274&EDATE=

3) Vietnam's communist authorities' desperate repressive measures against
attorney Nguyen Van Dai. 5 March 2007.
http://ykien.net/blog/?p=686 (in three languages)

4) Two lawyers' names erased from Bar Association. 13 March 2007
http://english.vietnamnet.vn/politics/2007/03/672366/

SEE ALSO
Vietnam uncovers democracy 'plot'. Hanoi (dpa)
http://www.bangkokpost.com/breaking_news/breakingnews.php?id=117327