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Vietnam's Cyberdissident

New York Times Editorial

July 7, 2003

Much like China's rulers, Vietnam's Communist leaders in recent years have embraced market-oriented economic reforms, while ruthlessly retaining their monopoly on political power. Both governments are wary of the Internet, fearing that the free flow of information will undermine their grip on power. The case of Pham Hong Son is the latest example of Hanoi's insecurity. Last month, Dr. Son, who works for a Vietnamese pharmaceutical company, was sentenced on espionage charges to 13 years imprisonment for exchanging e-mail with overseas pro-democracy advocates and distributing material about democratic institutions that he translated from an American government Web site.

The government apparently feels that any criticism and free speech can be equated with espionage under its flexible interpretation of Article 80 of Vietnam's criminal code. Dr. Son's conviction and the fact that he was held virtually incommunicado for 15 months prior to his half-day in court violated his legal rights under Vietnam's own constitution, not to mention human rights treaties to which Vietnam is a party. Perhaps to counter mounting international criticism, Vietnam's Communist regime recently released Thich Quang Do, a well-known dissident Buddhist monk. In assessing the range of threats to its power, Hanoi may have decided that it can afford to be more tolerant of religious freedom. That would be a welcome move, but it should not detract from pressure to force Vietnam's government to release all prisoners of conscience, including Dr. Son.

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