Vietnam prisoner release
John E. Carey
September 24, 2006
Congressional Human Rights Caucus met to discuss "Human Rights in Vietnam" last
week on Capitol Hill. Co-chaired by California Reps. Loretta Sanchez and Zoe
Lofgren, Democrats, and Edward Royce, Republican, the caucus meets periodically
with knowledgeable representatives of the Vietnamese-American community and
others active in human-rights issues for the Vietnamese people.
Vietnam seeks entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Vietnam is also
seeking U.S. congressional approval for Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR).
President Bush is expected to travel to Vietnam in November for the Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference. Yet Vietnam continues to act contrary to
its own self-interest by jailing political antagonists for "crimes" such as
posting democratically themed essays on the Internet.
Two such prisoners are Cong Thanh Do (no relation to the co-author) 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, who is from San Jose, Calif.,
was released by the Vietnamese government government on Thursday. His
activities, taken for granted by all Americans, came to the attention of the
government of Vietnam, which insists on regulating all media and information,
including the Internet and e-mail. The Washington Times Web site, for example,
is not available to readers in Vietnam. The Washington Times is too
While the U.S. cannot appropriately intervene and tell another nation it insists
on an American-style freedom of speech, American members of Congress, House and
Senate, can insist on 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, Saigon] 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 held since Sept. 8, 2005. She was also
known for her Internet postings of democratically inspired documents from her
home in California. Both she and Mr. Do went to Vietnam to visit elderly
When Vietnam's current leaders came to power in June of this year, we responded
with a Commentary article in The Washington Times on America's Independence Day,
July Fourth: "Recently, more enlightened thinking has made Vietnam an emerging
economic force.... 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. He 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?"
Vietnam's government manipulates the international community by feigning partial
respect for human rights. Vietnam has been releasing thousands of prisoners to
convince the U.S. government to approve Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR)
and the world to support their accession to the World Trade Organization.
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
Scott Johnson and Vo Van Ai tell us what is obvious to most international
observers: Vietnam's recent prisoner release effort is window-dressing designed
to thrill the shallowest students of human rights. This is an effort to please
U.S. representatives 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 freeing those formerly incarcerated, we urge Vietnam
to free the remaining prisoners.
A letter from Reporters Without Borders on Sept. 6, 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 nonviolent democrats."
We urge members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate not to move
forward on permanent normal trade status (PNTR) for Vietnam until release and
safety of these prisoners is secured. Before Vietnam can be considered an equal
partner in world trade and economic activity, it must face modern realities.
While we welcome the prisoners recently released by the government of Vietnam,
we urge Vietnam to now release those still held: prisoners such as Thuong N. "Cuc"
Honglien Do escaped from Communist Vietnam and is now a U.S. citizen.
John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants,