New York, New York, June 18, 2004—PEN American Center hailed the release this week of Lê Chi Quang, an Internet activist whose critical essays about the Vietnamese government earned him a 4-year prison term followed by 3 years of house arrest. Quang was one of two recipients of PEN’s 2004 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards. The PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards honor international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression. Of the 29 who were in prison at the time they were honored, 24 have been subsequently released.

Lê Chi Quang was arrested on February 27, 2002 at an Internet café in Hanoi and charged with “acts of propaganda against the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” and “communicating with overseas elements via the Internet.” PEN believes he was arrested in connection with an essay entitled “Beware of Imperialist China” that argued that the Vietnamese government had made too many concessions in the Sino-Vietnamese land and sea border agreements of 1999 and 2000. He was tried on November 8, 2002 in a closed court; that same day he was sentenced to four years in prison followed by three years’ house arrest. While the chief judge told foreign reporters that Quang admitted his guilt, the Free Vietnam Alliance reported that he was in fact “forced to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the allegations against him, and that although Quang admitted writing essays and distributing them over the Internet, he refused to admit that these actions were criminal.”

Mr. Quang’s release on June 14th came two years before he was due to complete his prison sentence. PEN American Center and other international organizations brought wide public attention to the alarming case of this cyber-dissident, whose imprisonment aggravated the writer’s pre-existing acute renal failure and peptic ulcers. Quang’s arrest and harsh sentence is part of a larger crackdown on Internet activists by the Vietnamese government to discourage citizens from criticizing or speaking out against the government despite constitutional guarantees of free speech. Several Vietnamese writers and intellectuals still remain in prison or under house arrest for having peacefully exercised their right to free expression of their opinions and convictions.

“We are very relieved that Lê Chi Quang has been freed, and look forward to reports that he is now receiving full medical treatment,” said Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems. “We consider his release an important step in the right direction, and hope it signals a shift on the part of the Vietnamese authorities away from free speech violations and toward compliance with international human rights guarantees.”

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105