Despite news during the last few months that Viet Nam was decreasing it’s restriction of religion, several recent arrests and convictions show that the communist government has no desire to allow freedom of speech or religion for their people.

Two human rights lawyers including Le Quoc Quan and a Catholic priest/human rights activist Father Nguyen Van Ly have been arrested.

Father Ly was convicted and given eight years in prison for ” spreading propaganda against the state”. Four codefendents received lesser sentences.

The backgroundAs the late-November APEC summit approached, activists used the Internet to promote the 8406 Bloc — named for its founding date — and reported collecting hundreds of signatures on a petition calling for a multiparty state. A handful of new pro-democracy parties were established.

Then things changed.

Ly, 60, is a member of the outlawed Vietnam Progression Party. His previous imprisonment, in 2001, came after he openly called for linking U.S. trade with Vietnam to Hanoi‘s human rights record.

This time he is accused of trying to undermine the state because he was talking to overseas democracy activists about starting a political umbrella group.

As the Internet takes root in Vietnam, authorities are increasingly sensitive to contact between domestic and overseas democracy activists.

On March 6, they arrested human rights lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, accusing them of violating a prohibition on distributing information deemed harmful to the state.

The Asian Times notes that VietNam had improved it’s restrictions on civil rights and religious groups prior to hosting last year’s Pacific Rim summit and because of the wish of Viet Nam to join the World Trade Organization. Part of the reason for it’s approved on January 11th of this year was due to US help, that this help would be linked to improvements in it’s human rights record. The present arrests essentially breaks this diplomatic agreement.

Republican Congressman Chris Smith has asked the US Congress to condemn the arrests and ask for their release. However with or without strong backing by Bush, it is unlikely that Congress will bother to try to intervene.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket 

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