Reporters Without Borders - 2004 Annual
331,690 sq. km.
of state : republic
of state : President Tran Duc Luong
of Communist Party : Nong Duc Manh
Vietnam - 2004 Annual Report
Denied access to the news media, which are all state-owned,
dissidents turn to the Internet to express themselves. As a result,
cyber-dissidents were the main target of repression in 2003. The press
meanwhile continued to modernise. Newspapers that were more liberal were
launched, but they were closely watched by the censors.
The day after World Press Freedom Day in May, the army daily
Quan Doi Nhan Dan rejected Reporters Without Borders' accusations about press
freedom violations in Vietnam, saying there had been a "media
explosion" that was the "result of the policy carried out jointly by
the Vietnamese Communist Party and the government with a view to guaranteeing
the right to information of all citizens."
Responding to criticism of the crackdown on cyber-dissidents, the newspaper
said the state was obliged "to prevent the spread of harmful information,
especially violent and pornographic information."
Nguyen Dinh Huy, 71, continued to be imprisoned for calling for respect for
free expression. Nguyen Dan Que, a leading dissident and founder of the
underground magazine Tuong Lai (The Future) was arrested in March. Despite his
health problems, the government showed him no mercy.
In June, Amnesty International reproduced two directives which had been issued
by the Communist Party's political bureau and which showed the level of
paranoia within the regime. Dissident journalists were called "criminal
spies" while the foreign media, in particular, "radio stations, TV
stations, Internet and various embassy information bureaux" were accused
of fostering "violence in order to deny the socialist ideal." In
fact, the authorities regularly jammed international radio signals, especially
Radio Free Asia, and blocked access to many news websites.
Article 69 of the constitution guarantees press freedom, but
"dissemination of state secrets" or information that threatens
"national security" is several punished in the criminal code. The law
allows the authorities to crack down on dissent and sustain a climate of fear
for the journalists who work for the countries 500 or so newspapers and
Nonetheless, some newspapers such as Tuoi Tri (Youth) and Lao Dong often test
the limits of censorship by publishing reports on sensitive social and
political issues. In July, the authorities temporarily closed down the weekly
Sinh Vien ViÍt-nam. In a new development, at least three journalists were
threatened with violence by criminal groups which did not like being the
subject of press investigations.
The Vietnamese government can count on the support of many international bodies
such as the International Organisation of French-Speaking Countries to develop
news media that are modern, but subject to censorship and self-censorship.
One example is the French-language newspaper Courrier du ViÍt-nam, which in
early 2003 misquoted European diplomats on their return form an official visit
to the high plateaux. Although there has been unrest among the minority groups
there, the diplomats were reported to have welcomed the stability and
improvement in living standards in the Dak Lak region. But that was denied by
one of the diplomats who spoke to Agence France-Presse : "We did not
welcome anything. There was a deliberate intent to distort our position."
Two journalists imprisoned
Dissident journalist Nguyen Dinh Huy was still in prison at the end of 2003.
Detained since 17 November 1993, he was sentenced in April 1995 to 15 years in
prison for trying to "overthrow the people's government" and for
being a founder-member of the Movement for People's Unity and Building
Democracy, which has campaigned for press freedom. Aged 69, he was being held
at Camp Z30A, in the southern province of Dong Nai. He was a journalist in the
former South Vietnam and was banned from working as a journalist after the fall
of Saigon. He was transferred in November 2002 from a cell to a small one-room
hut with a window in the camp grounds.
Dr Nguyen Dan Que, the editor of the underground magazine Tuong Lai (The
Future), was arrested on 17 March 2003 as he was going from his home to an
Internet cafť in Ho Chi Minh City. He was taken to the municipal detention
centre. A few hours later, police searched his home, seizing his computer,
mobile phone and many personal papers. The arrest of Que, who had already spent
nearly 20 years in prison, was thought to be linked to a statement he issued
criticising the lack of press freedom in the country. He was responding to the
foreign ministry spokesman's claim on 12 March that freedom of information was
The authorities announced on 22 March that Que had been arrested for breaking
article 80 of the criminal code, which provides for the death penalty or life
imprisonment for "spying." In September, 12 Nobel Prize winners wrote
to Communist Party secretary-general Nong Duc Manh asking him to let Que
receive proper medical treatment. Aged 61, he has a haemorrhagic ulcer, kidney
stones and high blood pressure.
Que had been under close surveillance since he was last freed from prison in
1998, but he still managed to start up Tuong Lai in 2000 and distribute it
within Vietnam and abroad. The magazine campaigned for free expression and condemned
the imprisonment of those who defend political and religious freedoms. Most of
its articles were also posted on the Internet. Que was first arrested in 1978
and held without trial for 10 years. He was arrested again in 1990 after
campaigning for democracy and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, including 20
with hard labour. After his release under an amnesty in 1998, he was often
interrogated and his home was repeatedly searched. He was also the target of
public vilification orchestrated by the Ho Chi Minh City state security
department. He has a degree in medicine from Saigon University.
Two journalists were released from house arrest in 2003.
Reporters Without Borders considers that house arrest is still detention. The
authorities use these administrative measures to prevent journalists from
communicating and working.
Journalist and dissident Bui Minh Quoc had been under house arrest at his home
in the southern city of Dalat since 12 January 2002. He had been detained at
the railway station in the Hanoi suburb of Thanh Tri four days earlier. He was
interrogated for three days by police who seized more than 300
"reactionary" documents from his home. The day before his arrest, he
had met a group of Hanoi dissidents. While under house arrest, he was not
allowed to leave his neighbourhood or meet anyone without official permission.
His phone was cut off, police guarded his house and his family was watched.
A Vietnamese journalist exiled in France said Quoc was being punished for
spending more than a month investigating the situation in the region near the
Chinese border. Dissidents regularly condemn territorial and other concessions
the government has made to China. Quoc had travelled round the region on a
motorcycle doing interviews. The notebooks and film from this trip were among
the material confiscated by the police. He belonged to a dissident group in
Dalat and was previously put under house arrest from April 1997 until the end
of 1999 for campaigning for press freedom.
Nguyen Xuan Tu, known by the pen-name of Ha Sy Phu, had been under house arrest
in Dalat since 8 February 2001 under government decree 31/CP for being "in
contact with reactionaries living abroad with the aim of sabotaging
Vietnam." His arrest coincided with a government crackdown on demonstrations
in the central Lam Dong mountainous region. He was first arrested in December
1995 and imprisoned for more than a year for allegedly disclosing "state
secrets." After being released as a result of international pressure, this
former biologist became one of the leaders of a dissident group in Dalat that
started a magazine called Langbian. Several years of house arrest followed.
They appeared to end with his release on 4 January 2001 but he was returned to
house arrest just over a month later. Thereafter, he was constantly harassed by
police, with searches of his house, seizure of his computer, pressure on his
family and a ban on visits.
At least one journalist physically attacked
Bui Tan Son Dinh of the daily Nong Nghiep Vietnam was attacked by a dozen
individuals while researching a story about prostitution in Hi Chi Minh City on
20 April 2003. He had just taken photos of prostitutes and their clients when a
group of men asked to see his press card and then gave him a beating. Although
a police station was only 300 metres away, no police arrived until after the
beating was over.
At least one journalist threatened
Two men set fire to the car of Hoang Thien Nga, the correspondent of the daily
Tien Phong in the central province of Dak Lak, outside her home on 21 April
2003. She had done a lot of research into corruption and crime and had written
several stories about a lawyer, Dai Hung, who is allegedly linked to both
organised crime and local politicians. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists,
Nga had received telephone threats from associates of Hung a few days before
the incident. The newspaper told the police, who arrested two youths involved
in criminal activity but the instigators were not identified.
Harassment and obstruction
Culture and information deputy minister Tran Chien Thang suspended the press
card of Vo Dac Danh, one of the editors of the daily Nguoi Lao Dong, on 9 June
2003 for publishing an article criticising state-funded construction projects.
The government closed down the weekly Sinh Vien ViÍt-nam on 15 July for three
months and demanded that its journalists carry out "self-criticism."
Run by the Ho Chi Minh Association of Communist Youth (which is linked to the
Communist Party), the magazine was punished under articles 6 and 10 of the
press law for publishing articles and illustrations "offensive" to
the regime, the culture and information ministry said. Agence France Presse
noted that the cover of the 20 May 2002 issue showed a Vietnamese banknote with
Ho Chi Minh's face floating in a toilet bowl, while the 7 July 2003 issue had a
photo of two statuettes representing a naked man and woman. AFP quoted an
official as saying the magazine had "abused sensationalist news to get