French rights group slams Vietnamover cyber dissident

18th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

HANOI, Feb 18 (AFP) - Reporters Without Borders called Wednesday on French international aid minister Pierre-Andre Wiltzer to raise the case of detained cyber-dissident Pham Que Duong during his visit to Vietnam next week.

HANOI, Feb 18 (AFP) - Reporters Without Borders called Wednesday on French international aid minister Pierre-Andre Wiltzer to raise the case of detained cyber-dissident Pham Que Duong during his visit to Vietnam next week.

A former colonel and army historian, Duong is expected to be tried on espionage charges within the next few weeks and faces a possible sentence of life imprisonment.

Wiltzer will arrive in Hanoi on February 25. Earlier this month, Vietnamese justice minister Uong Chu Luu was in France to discuss judicial cooperation with his French counterpart.

Noting Luu's visit, Reporters Without Borders accused the French authorities "of turning a blind eye to the parody that passes for justice in Vietnam."

However, the French embassy in Hanoi said Wiltzer would raise human rights issues during his talks with Vietnamese government officials.

France, which is the largest European aid donor and investor in its former colony, "has never sought to evade the subject," said a French diplomat.

Reporters Without Borders said Duong, a decorated veteran of Vietnam's revolutionary struggle, and his lawyers had been given no opportunity to prepare their defence properly.

It expressed fears that his trial would be a "complete travesty, as is usually the case with political dissidents in Vietnam."

Extremely sensitive to criticism of its human rights record, the government rarely announces the trial dates of dissidents, but Western diplomats said they believed it could take place soon.

Duong was not given a copy of the charges against him until February 3, the Paris-based organisation said. His lawyers and family have been able to read the charge sheet, but they have not been allowed to make a copy or take notes.

The 72-year-old, a long-term democracy advocate and critic of the endemic corruption within the Communist Party, is charged with espionage, which is punishable by 12 years to life imprisonment.

Specifically, he is accused of having links to reactionary organisations abroad, using the Internet to receive and distribute documents hostile to the communist regime, and of being the correspondent of a Canadian magazine, according to the media watchdog.

Duong was arrested on December 28, 2002, after a meeting in Ho Chi Minh City with fellow cyber-dissident and academic Tran Khue, who was arrested the following day. Khue has yet to be brought to trial.

The foreign ministry subsequently said they had both been "caught redhanded while carrying out activities that seriously violate Vietnamese laws."

The pair were founders of an anti-corruption group created in September 2001. They were also among 21 signatories, many of them former Party members and military veterans, of an August 2002 petition sent to Vietnam's parliament calling for democratic reforms.

International human rights groups have long charged Vietnam with smothering all political dissent and routinely jailing democracy activists or critics of the regime.

In late December, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Hanoi to stop "criminalising free expression by arresting democracy activists on charges of spying and other vaguely-worded 'national security' crimes"

© AFP

                                                              Subject: France news

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