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Vietnam\'s Crackdown Creates Watershed

March 22, 2007
Vietnam\'s Crackdown Creates Watershed
Date: Tuesday 20 March 2007
By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kenda

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
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

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

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