What is wrong with Vietnam?

 By John E. Carey and Honglien*
September 8, 2006

For the last three weeks, Vietnam has detained an American who was born in Vietnam and works in conjunction with an anti-communist group that wants a multiparty system in Vietnam.

Cong Thanh Do, 47, of San Jose, California, has been held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam without charges since August 17, 2006. He was visiting family in Vietnam, and traveling with his wife and son according to family members in California and Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung.

Mr. Do is a member of "The Peoples Democratic Party of Viet Nam," which is what might be called "the movement" or "the underground," to put it in the parlance of WWII.

In a letter from Reporters Without Borders on September 6, 2006, that organization asked the U.S., French and Finnish ambassadors in Hanoi to intervene.

The letter said in part:

"Five people are currently imprisoned in Vietnam for having expressed democratic views on the Internet. Contrary to the claims of the Vietnamese authorities, none of them is a terrorist, criminal or spy. These men have been punished for using the Internet to publicly express their disagreement with the political line of the sole party. They are non-violent democrats.”

Vietnam is a communist nation. Many of us have forgotten what that means.

Vietnam has no freedom of press, no freedom of speech and no opposition party. Internet access is severely restricted and monitored in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, starting in the 2006-2007 school year, all high schools must provide accredited and extensive IT education to all students. Each high school must also be equipped with a computer center with at least 25 computers connected to the Internet.

These reforms are dictated by the Communist Party's Ministry of Education and Training. The Vietnamese leaders believe that by making their youth more computer savvy, the nation will reap the great benefits of a surging economy for many years to come.

But the Vietnamese leaders, like the Communists in China, want to control the internet, read all email, monitor usage by individuals , and limit access to many western sites. Prohibited search words include "democracy," "freedom," and "declaration of independence." Many sites Americans take for granted are prohibited in Vietnam and China: like my own Washington Times (most articles much of the time).

On August 28, 2006, Vietnam announced the release of prominent dissident and pro-democracy activist Pham Hong Son. Son was originally sentenced to five years in prison. His crime? He translated articles from the U.S. State Department web site for an online journal. The articles were titled "What is democracy?"

Vietnam tightly controls freedom of speech and many western web sites are blocked and not accessible.

Also in August, Vietnam received international attention when it arrested staff members who worked for a foreign bank. The government of Vietnam was demanding their employer pay "compensation" to a state-owned bank for the $5.4 million it lost in speculative foreign-exchange trades.

The Wall Street Journal reported on August 28, “the appalling treatment of staff of the Dutch bank ABN-AMRO, caught up in what even Vietnamese regulators say were legitimate business transactions. The story highlights how, for all its strides toward a market economy, this Communist state is still not always a safe place to do business. In Hanoi, Tom O'Dore, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce Vietnam, says ‘This particular case reeks of human-rights abuses.’”

"They're criminalizing what appears to be a legitimate business transaction," Mr. O’Dore says.

"This is very bewildering in a country that's trying to get into WTO and sends an inappropriate message to the U.S. Congress."

Vietnam is trying to enter the WTO and they are trying to get most favored trade status from us here in the USA. They are taking a lot of steps to make themselves look as free and normal as European democracies but the truth is difficult for them to cover over.

Despite some window dressing appeals to the west, like releasing prisoners that they can easily re-arrest just after they get whatever they want from us, the leaders of Vietnam do not seem to completely grasp how shallow their small acts of kindness seem when they arrest someone like Mr. Do for weeks without a formal charge.

Yes, Vietnam has been releasing prisoners to impress the west with their "reforms of government.” Vietnam has released, in fact, more than 5 thousand prisoners; but only 4 of them are prisoners of conscience, and most of the rest are communist officers who were sentenced to jail for their "crimes of corruption."

Vietnam's record on Human Rights is no joke. Cong Thanh Do, like most Vietnamese-born Americans who return to Vietnam, was visiting family. Often the parents and grandparents stay behind in Vietnam and American family members naturally want to visit.

We don’t hear much about Vietnam. They have no missiles. They pose no apparent threat to their regional neighbors. But the leaders in Vietnam terrorize their own people and this places them into a special category that should interest all of us. Religious repression continues in Vietnam. In Vietnam, police are allowed to hold suspects without charges for more than a year.

The case of Cong Thanh Do stands as testament to how far Vietnam still has to travel before foreign governments can have faith in their words; as opposed to their continued actions in opposition to normally accepted international norms of civility and freedom.

Vietnam seeks entry into the World Trade Organization. Some in America say WTO entry will make Vietnam institute more relaxed laws toward those now deemed dissidents.

But WTO entry is no panacea, with China's 2001 accession failing to halt its abuses.

In the case of the staff of the Dutch bank ABN-AMRO, The Wall Street Journal said, “In the free world, governments don't go around abducting a competitor's staff over a business dispute. Until state-owned companies are forced to live with the consequences of bad business deals -- or resolve disputes through the legal system -- Vietnam can never expect to become a full-fledged member of the world business community.”

In the case of Cong Thanh Do there is simply no excuse for the conduct of Vietnam. Mr. Do only wants to leave Vietnam and return to his home in the United States.

Vietnam needs to start behaving as other civilized nations act. And Vietnam needs to start acting in accordance with its own long-term self interests. 


* Mr. Carey is former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.  Honglien escaped from the communists in Vietnam.


Vietnam Human Rights Network
[Home] [About us] [Bills of Rights] [Documents] [Human Rights news] [Forum] [Join] [Downloads] [Links]