Vietnam Pastor and 'Cyber Dissident' Released From Jail

Friday, September 1, 2006

By BosNewsLife News Center

HANOI, VIETNAM (BosNewsLife) -- Leading Christian and secular human rights groups welcomed Thursday, August 31 the release of a church leader and a well-known Internet activist as part of Vietnam's National Day of amnesty of thousands of prisoners.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told BosNewsLife that Ma Van Bay, a Vietnamese church leader from the Hmong ethnic minority, is due to be released by September 2 when the National Day will be held and over 5,300 prisoners will be set free.

"Ma Van Bay's case has been the subject of widespread international pressure, particularly during recent months. His release, which closely follows the visit to Vietnam of John Hanford, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, comes at a crucial juncture in Vietnamese relations with the USA," CSW said.

"Vietnam is seeking both its removal from the American list of 'Countries of Particular Concern' for religious freedom violations, and the establishment of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the US, one of the final obstacles before its highly sought-after ascendancy to the World Trade Organization," the group added.


Ma Van Bay was reportedly initially imprisoned in 1995 in Ha Giang Province, on what CSW called "a poorly substantiated charge." Apparently fearing a sentence of up to twelve years as stated in his indictment papers, he escaped from prison after six months, and fled with his wife to Vietnam's Central Highlands.

In November 2003, he was re-arrested and "summoned under a false allegation to the local police station, where Ha Giang police were present to arrest him," said CSW, which has investigated the case. "In April 2004, he was convicted of undermining Vietnam 's national unity, and his sentence was doubled as a consequence of his escape," amid a crackdown on church leaders, the group claimed.

"We are delighted to hear about the planned release of Ma Van Bay, and sincerely hope that he is allowed to freely reintegrate into his church community without difficulties," said CSW Advocacy Director Tina Lambert. However, "Vietnamese authorities continue to suppress Christian activities to a great extent, particularly among the Hmong and other ethnic minorities," she cautioned.

Ma Van Bay's scheduled release coincides with that of well-known 'cyber-dissident' Pham Hong Son, CSW and Amnesty International (AI) told BosNewsLife. "Prisoner of conscience Dr Pham Hong Son was released today [Thursday August 31] from jail" ahead of Vietnam's National Day, AI said, adding that he "will remain under house arrest" for up to three years.

"While it is good news for Dr Pham Hong Sen" was released from jail, "he now faces three years under house arrest and we still consider him a prisoner of conscience," said Janice Beanland, South East Asia Campaigner at AI.


"The Vietnamese government has been cracking down on cyber dissidents for the last four years, detaining people who email or post on the internet material that is critical of the government. There are many others still detained and the government continues to silence critics in this way."

On August 18, 25-year-old Truong Quoc Huy was allegedly arrested by plain clothes police as he was connecting to a democracy chat room in an internet cafe in Ho Chi Minh City. "He had only been out of incommunicado detention for six weeks, having previously been arrested last October for participating in an internet chat room," AI added.

Another cyber dissident, Nguyen Vu Binh, "is still serving a seven-year sentence for passing information through the internet to overseas Vietnamese groups," the group claimed.

Three other young Internet users, Truong Quoc Tuan, his brother Truong Quoc Huy and his fiancée Lisa Pham, jailed for comments they made on an Internet forum and website dedicated to religious freedom in Vietnam, were released in July from a Communist detention camp after a BosNewsLife story sparked international protests.

"We urge the government to [also] release Dr Pham Hong Son from house arrest and to free all those imprisoned simply for expressing their peaceful opinions," said Janice Beanland.


Dr Pham Hong Son, a businessman and qualified medical doctor, was sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment and three years house arrest on charges of "spying", having been arrested in March 2002.

Shortly before his arrest, he had translated into Vietnamese an article from the United States embassy website about democracy. "In an unprecedented development in August 2003 his sentence was reduced to five years' imprisonment, possibly because of the intense international pressure about his case," AI claimed.

Vietnamese commentators and human rights watchers expressed disappointed that no more than two known prisoners of conscience out of 5,300 detainees have been released, a move they say, shows insufficient progress in the area of human rights.

Vietnamese officials have denied human rights abuses and say they follow the laws of the land. (With reports from Vietnam, BosNewsLife Research, and BosNewsLife reports).

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