October 2, 2008

His Excellency Nguyên Minh Triêt
President, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Nguyên Tân Dung
Prime Minister
1 Hoang Hoa Tham Street
Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Lê Doan Hop
Minister of Culture and Information
1 Hoang Hoa Tham Street
Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our serious concern regarding the arrests of writers Nguyen Van Hai, Nguyen Xuan Nghia, Le Thi Kim Thu, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Van Tuc, Ngô Quỳnh, Tran Duc Thach and Pham Thanh Nghien.

According to our information, independent journalist and blogger Nguyen Van Hai, also known as Nguyen Hoang Hai/ Dieu Cay, was sentenced on September 10, 2008 to two and a half years’ imprisonment by the Vietnamese People’s Court at Ho Chi Minh City for alleged tax fraud, although he is widely believed to be targeted for his criticism of Vietnamese government policy. He is known for his Internet postings calling for greater democracy and human rights in Vietnam and his participation in protests against Chinese foreign policy. Nguyen Xuan Nghia, a poet, writer and founding member of the banned democracy movement known as Block 8406, was arrested on September 11, 2008 and is being held at the B14 labor camp in Ha Dong province. Le Thi Kim Thu, an online reporter for various overseas Vietnamese media outlets, was arrested on August 14, 2008. She is being detained at Hoa Lo detention camp outside Hanoi.

Pham Van Troi, an activist and writer for the underground dissident review Tu Do Dan Chu, Nguyen Van Tuc, a satirical poet and human rights defender known for his numerous writings on social injustice published on overseas web sites, and Ngô Quỳnh, a student and author of critical articles published online, were all arrested on September 10, 2008 and are being detained at the B14 labor camp, in Ha Dong province. Poet Tran Duc Thach, reportedly arrested the same day, was released soon after his detention, but remains under heavy surveillance. Internet writer and independent journalist Pham Thanh Nghien was arrested on September 11, 2008 and released later that day. She remained under residential surveillance until her re-arrest on September 17, 2008, and is thought to be held under Article 88 of the Criminal Code on charges of “propaganda against the state.”

It is our understanding these arrests are part of a crackdown on peaceful protests carried out by dissidents in recent weeks. This brings the total number of writers detained in Vietnam to sixteen. The arrests are apparently part of a wider pattern of harassment and arrest by Vietnamese authorities of independent journalists, human rights activists, cyber dissidents, religious freedom advocates, and farmers protesting confiscation of their land.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned by this recent crackdown on dissidents in Vietnam, and views the arrests of the above writers as a breach of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is signatory. We therefore respectfully call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression, and an end to the restrictions that threaten their work.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: His Excellency Nguyen Tam Chien
Ambassador of Vietnam to the United States
1233 20th Street NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036
Fax: (202) 861-0917

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