Professor Held for ‘Subversion’

Vietnamese authorities arrest an academic with alleged ties to a U.S.-based opposition group.
2010-08-18
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Pham Minh Hoang, shown in an undated photo with his daughter in Ho Chi Minh City.
Pham Minh Hoang, shown in an undated photo with his daughter in Ho Chi Minh City.
RFA

Police arrested a mathematics professor on Friday on charges of “subversion” after questioning him about his relationship with an opposition group based in the United States, the man’s wife said.

Meanwhile, authorities released a founding member of another banned group after his completion of a four-year jail term.

Le Thi Kieu Oanh said she and her French-educated husband, 55-year-old Pham Minh Hoang, were interrogated at a police station in Ho Chi Minh City on Aug. 11.

“I didn’t know what the reasons were, but … the police came to the house and asked me and my husband to accompany them to the station,” Oanh said.

“When we got there, my husband was taken elsewhere and asked questions while I was kept at a separate facility,” she said.

Not long after arriving, Oanh said she was informed that she and her husband were being questioned about their affiliation with Viet Tan, the U.S.-based Vietnam Reform Party.

“They said that someone had told them that my husband and I were part of the Viet Tan party, but the truth is that I have no connection with them,” Oanh said.

Group banned

Viet Tan is banned in Vietnam and has been labeled a terrorist group by the country’s Communist Party. Vietnam is ruled by a one-party political system.

Viet Tan, which is headquartered in Washington, issued a statement Tuesday in which Oanh said she believes authorities targeted her husband for his support of protests against Chinese-run bauxite mines in Vietnam's Central Highlands.

Bauxite mining drew national attention last year when war hero Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap wrote an open letter to the government expressing his opposition. Giap’s letter unleashed a flood of criticism from scientists, activists, and legislators concerned with the potential environmental impact of the mines.

“The reality is that they had no evidence to charge us with any crime. But on the night of Aug. 13, they came and read a warrant to search my house and arrest my husband. They took him away,” she said.

Hoang was charged with "opposing the people's administration" under Penal Code Article 79, which can lead to a sentence of imprisonment or even death, according to Oanh.

Attempts to reach the municipal police in Ho Chi Minh City by telephone went unanswered.

Oanh said her husband had moved back to Vietnam earlier this year from France, where he studied for 27 years, to serve his country. Hoang has been teaching mathematics at the Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City since his return.

“I hope that whoever loves their country like my husband lends their support,” she said.

“I don’t know why he was repaid in such a way.”

Opposition member released

Meanwhile, Dr. Le Nguyen Sang, a leading official of the banned People’s Democratic Party of Vietnam (PDP), was released from prison over the weekend after completing a four-year sentence for his role in the organization of an opposition political party.

Sang, who helped found the organization in August 2006, said that he was isolated from his fellow inmates for an entire year during his jail term.

“I was locked in a cell for solitary confinement—a horrible year with no air to breathe and no light to enjoy,” Sang said.

“Light and air are two human needs, two things that are free for most of mankind. But in communist prisons, no one is entitled to these freedoms,” he said.

Sang said that despite the abuse he faced during his incarceration, the experience helped him to rediscover the purpose of his work in the opposition party.

“In a communist prison, people are oppressed in many ways that leave them mentally and physically exhausted. But when I got out of jail … I felt that this was a new world for me. It was such an overwhelming feeling that I cannot fully describe it,” he said.

“For me, jail in a communist country is only a small prison. On the outside is an even bigger prison.”

Suppression of dissent

The PDP in a statement welcomed Sang’s release, but called on the Vietnamese government to “immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners” and to “respect the fundamental rights of its people.”

The party said that more than six of its members are currently imprisoned for the peaceful expression of political opposition, while a number have been released but are still serving sentences of house arrest.

Two other members, Le Trung Hieu and Dang Ba Tong, have yet to be sentenced publicly.

Most of those jailed have been accused of “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code, the group said.

The Vietnamese government commonly suppresses dissent in an effort to maintain the authority of the Communist Party.

In March testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, Human Rights Watch noted that in 2009 authorities arrested dozens of peaceful democracy advocates using “vaguely-worded national security laws such as spreading ‘anti-government propaganda’ or ‘abusing democratic freedoms.’”

The group said that Vietnamese courts convicted at least 20 political or religious prisoners last year, adding that more than 400 Vietnamese citizens are currently in jail for exercising their fundamental rights.

Original reporting by Khoa Diem for RFA's Vietnamese service. Translations by Khanh Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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