Ten international NGOs have submitted a joint letter to the Prime Minister of Vietnam calling for the release of human rights defender Professor Pham Minh Hoang, a dual French-Vietnamese citizen, who was sentenced to three years in prison last month.
Mr. Hoang is a well-known blogger whose articles on education, the environment, and Vietnamese sovereignty in respect to China have been widely read. He has worked tirelessly to promote human rights and to empower and encourage civic participation among his pupils and peers. He is also a lecturer in applied mathematics at the Ho Chi Minh City Polytechnic Institute.According to a statement released by his wife following his arrest, he is especially concerned about social justice and corruption. He actively supported protests against bauxite mining in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He had also attended a conference that was held in Saigon which looked at the issue of Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. The Professor’s wife has reported that the police investigated leadership training courses that he had offered to some of his students.
At Mr. Hoang’s trial, Judge Vu Phi Long ruled that his writings had “blackened the image of the country” and were “aimed at overthrowing the people’s government.” Mr. Hoang, on the contrary, has claimed that he was exercising his free speech and was unaware that he had committed any crimes.
The organizations PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, Front Line Defenders, ARTICLE 19, Committee of Concerned Scientists, Committee to Protect Journalists, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Index on Censorship, Scholars at Risk and ACAT-France (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) submitted a letter Prime Minister H.E. Nguyen Tan Dung on behalf of Mr. Hoang.
They call on the Government of Vietnam to acknowledge that Pham Minh Hoang’s blogging activities and his activism are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They also reminded the government that these rights were also protected by the Vietnamese Constitution. The letter asks authorities to recognize his right to freedom of expression and to lift the sentence and ensure his release.
The international human rights organization Front Line Defenders believes that his arrest and detention are a direct result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defense of human rights, and sees them as forming part of an ongoing pattern of harassment against human rights defenders in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese government maintains that people are not punished for voicing their thoughts and opinions in Vietnam. Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Nga insisted on July 27 that “all of the basic rights and freedoms figure in the Vietnamese constitution and in the laws that are below it” and “are respected in practice too.” In Vietnam, “no one is punished for expressing their opinions,” she claimed.
On September 1, Jean-François Julliard, the Secretary General of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the Vietnamese Prime Minister to release all bloggers and journalists imprisoned in Vietnam on the occasion of Vietnam’s national holiday on September 2. Mr. Julliard asked Prime Minister Nguyen to free all the prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, “especially the 17 bloggers and three journalists who, according to our organization, are still in prison”’ and called specifically for the release of Mr. Hoang. RSF said in the letter that “The government must respect its obligations and guarantee freedom of expression. As you begin your second term as Vietnam’s Prime Minister, the release of human rights activists, journalists and bloggers would send a strong signal of a readiness to be more open.”