Freedom Of Speech, Media Continue to Face Restrictions in Cuba, China, Vietnam and Iran


In Vietnam, men and women are wrongly imprisoned for posting "democratic" essays on the Internet…

In recent weeks, we’ve seen news stories about governments further limiting freedom of the press coming from Cuba, China, Vietnam and Iran.

In Cuba, when Fidel Castro was admitted to the hospital, his stand-in as leader of the country, brother Raul Castro, quickly decreed an end to satellite dishes.

By ending satellite dishes he also terminated western (primarily U.S.) TV sources.

The stories from Cuba started to appear on about August 9 and typically included lines like, “Cuba's communist government has signaled a crackdown on black-market satellite dishes used by citizens to get news and views from its arch enemy, the United States, nine days after ailing leader Fidel Castro temporarily relinquished power to his brother.”

China’s Communist government has long controlled print media, TV and the internet. Many sites, like my own Washington Times, is “blocked” and cannot be accessed from within China.

On September 13, 2006, the lead New York Times editorial, titled “China’s Echo Chamber,” began, “China has long prided itself on its ability to master capitalism without indulging in the messy business of democracy. So Beijing got a twofer this week when it gave the state-run Xinhua news agency monopoly control over the lucrative financial news business and the power to administer broad censorship rules for all foreign news entering China.”

“Foreign agencies have long been barred from selling general news directly to the Chinese media. Some foreign companies have been quietly testing the limits as the number of Chinese media outlets has grown and Chinese editors have become more daring,” said the New York Times.

“Xinhua sent a clear warning to all sides, listing 10 categories of news covering politics, religion and national unity — code for Taiwan —that could not be released into China.”

“Not surprisingly, it [Xinhua news agency and the government of China] didn’t quote any critics,” wryly wrote a New York Times editorialist.

Just today, the Washington Post reported that, “a new effort to punish anyone who leaks information from China’s courts is part of a clampdown on the news media.”

The Post said that, “the clampdown appeared designed to limit information on the fate of a number of prominent officials recently arrested on corruption charges.”

Vietnam, just a few weeks ago, arrested a Vietnamese-born America in Vietnam who went to visit family members.

Cong Thanh Do, 47, of San Jose, California, has been held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam without charges or access to a lawyer or anyone else from outside the Communist government since August 17, 2006.

The crime committed by Mr. Do, western observers believe, is that he has, in the past, posted pro-democracy articles on web sites.

A letter from Reporters Without Borders on September 6, 2006, stated 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.”

Sebsequent to running a story about Mr. Do on the web site , we were contacted by the family of Thuong N. Foshee.

According to her family, “On September 8, 2005 she [Mrs. Foshee] was detained by the Vietnamese government and has been in a detention center in HCMC ever since. She has not been charged with any crime, has been denied bail, has been denied a visit with an attorney, her prescription medication has been withheld and she has been denied adequate dental and medical care.”

“Like Mr. Do, she belongs to an organization in the states that advocates democracy in Vietnam," Mrs. Foshee's daughter wrote to me.

"For this she has been labeled a terrorist in Vietnam just as Mr. Do has. Her detention has been arbitrary and continues with no end in sight.”

This is the same Communist government that is anxious for U.S. approval to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO), seeks Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the U.S., and expects to host President Bush at the APEC conference in Hanoi this November.

An AFP news report on September 9, 2006, said, “Two US senators have sought the personal intervention of US President George W. Bush to ensure that the bill granting Vietnam Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) is passed before his trip to the APEC summit in Vietnam's capital Hanoi in November.”APEC stands for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

"We believe that it is imperative for US prestige in Asia that Congress, with your administration's active support, move to consider and pass this widely-supported legislation before you join APEC leaders in Hanoi this November," Democratic Senator Max Baucus and his Republican counterpart Gordon Smith, authors of the bill, said in the letter to Bush.

Personally, we hope everyone who reads this sends a message to Senators Baucus and Smith along with President Bush.

Tell them “No APEC, no PNTR while Do and Foshee are held.”

Just as China’s Communist government has long controlled print media, TV and the internet, Vietnam follows the Communist pattern. In Vietnam, many web sites, like that of the U.S. Department of State, are “blocked” and cannot be accessed from within Vietnam.

To be completely honest, Vietnam has tried to look more caring, loving and democratic in recent weeks in hopes of wooing U.S. Senators and others.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?"

Finally, the government of Iran continues its crackdown on freedom of speech. Satellite dishes are the focus of this current effort.An August 20 news report said, “Iran’s police forces have been instructed to use all means, including helicopters, to locate and confiscate privately-owned satellite dishes, which are illegal in Iran.”

"A senior police commander in the north-eastern [Iranian] province of North Khorassan told local journalists in the provincial capital Mashad on Saturday that his forces have been using choppers to spot the satellite dishes and report them to ground units, which would then search the suspected homes and seize the dishes. Owners are imprisoned and expected to pay a heavy fine.”

So, we at Peace and Freedom say what we have said before: governments that restrict freedom of speech and free and open access to world news, are up to no good. Governments like that in Cuba, China, Vietnam and Iran wish to control, if not brainwash, the minds of their citizens.

Every peace and freedom loving person should be outraged and concerned.

Vietnam Human Rights Network
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