1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Clampdown on Dissidents in Vietnam

02/09/09September 2, 2009

Celebrating Vietnam's National Day on Wednesday, the government has pardoned more than 5,000 prisoners in an amnesty common on such occasions. But while some of those released had been in jail on national security grounds -- notably members of ethnic minorities -- Vietnam's top dissidents remain imprisoned. The regime even seems to have stepped up its efforts to crack down on dissent.

Two Vietnamese journalists on trial last year
Two Vietnamese journalists on trial last yearImage: AP

There has been a wave of arrests of dissenting journalists and bloggers in Vietnam over the past few weeks: Doan Trang, a journalist with the news website VietnamNet was arrested, probably for her writings about a sensitive territorial conflict with China. Blogger Bui Thanh Hieu was detained. He had also attacked China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and had been critical of the government's handling of disputes with the Catholic church. And journalist Huy Duc's contract was terminated by his Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper, after it reportedly faced pressure from the authorities after Duc published his thoughts on the end of communism in Europe -- again, on a blog.

All these three incidents took place last week. "The government does not tolerate all these more prominent activists, who are often involved in a number of different areas," says Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "They are journalists or bloggers or people who have called for a more pluralistic political system. These are the kind of people who have been either arrested and put in prison or kept under forms of house arrest, e.g. for simply proposing the idea of having multiple independent trade unions."

Bad conditions in jails

49 year old writer Tran Khai Thanh Thuy attracted the regime's wrath for writing and posting articles criticizing the government. She was in jail for nine months between April 2007 and January 2008. "Political prisoners are treated very badly," she says. "The government claims otherwise, but that's not true. I fell ill in jail, like many others. I got TB and diabetes there."

Harassment and intimidation did not end after her release. "I've accepted my fate and dedicated my life to fighting the government. In Vietnam, all dissidents are treated badly by the police. After the Vietnamese New Year, policemen threw stinking garbage and rotten fish into my apartment."

High-profile activists not eligible for amnesty

A group of high-profile democracy activists belonging to the banned Vietnam Democratic Party is currently awaiting trial. Most well-known among them is human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, who was arrested in June. Writer Tran Khai Thanh Thuy says, "Le Cong Dinh is a real patriot who fights for democracy in Vietnam. The government has arrested him, citing anti-state propaganda."

In July, a bipartisan group of 37 US senators in a letter called on Vietnam's president to release Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, another prominent dissident. Ly has spent a total of more than 15 years in jail and is currently serving an eight year sentence. Asked at a press conference this week why Father Ly was not part of the annual prisoner amnesty on the occasion of Vietnam's National Day, Vice Minister of Public Security Le The Tiem said he did not qualify. Ly had not shown any progress in his rehabilitation, the minister added.

Author: Thomas Bärthlein
Editor: Grahame Lucas