October 22, 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 protest the sentences handed to journalists Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai.

According to our information, Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai, reporters for the Vietnamese language newspapers Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre, respectively, were arrested on May 13, 2008. Their detention was apparently linked to their reports on high-level corruption in the so-called “PMU-18” scandal in 2006. The scandal reportedly provoked the resignation of some senior officials, some of whom were allegedly linked to stolen development funds that were used to gamble on European football, rather than to build roads and bridges. On October 15, 2008, The Hanoi People’s Court sentenced both journalists under Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interest of the State the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.” Nguyen Viet Chien was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading his innocence, while a noncustodial two-year re-education sentence was imposed on Nguyen Van Hai after he pled guilty. 

PEN American Center believes the convictions of Nguyen Viet Chien and Nguyen Van Hai to be in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a signatory. We therefore respectfully call for their immediate and unconditional release as well as the release of all those currently detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression.

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, DC 20036
Fax: (202) 861-0917

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