Hanoi offers exile to leading dissident

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WASHINGTON, July 13, 2003--Vietnam has offered to release one of its leading critics from jail on condition that he leave the country permanently, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. But Dr. Nguyen Dan Que's brother says he expects Dr. Que to refuse the offer and stand trial for spying in Vietnam instead.

Hanoi's offer of conditional release was communicated in late May to the United States, when Vietnamese Vice Premier Nguyen Tan Dung met with the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Raymond Burghardt, according to officials who asked not to be named and to Dr. Que's U.S.-based brother, Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan.

During their meeting in Hanoi, Dung told Burghardt that if Dr. Que accepted the offer, "I can have him released right this minute," the sources said. Whether Dr. Que has already been told of the offer was unclear. But Dr. Quan said he believed his brother would choose to remain in Vietnam and face trial on spying charges. "Exile isn't freedom," he quoted Dr. Que as saying. Dr. Que refused a similar offer of exile in the past.

Dr. Que was arrested for the third time on March 17 in Ho Chi Minh City for allegedly heading to an Internet cafe to send e-mails critical of Hanoi's human rights record. Police searched his home and confiscated a laptop computer and several essays--four days after Dr. Que published a document criticizing the governments media curbs.

"The state hopes to cling to power by brain-washing the Vietnamese people through stringent censorship and through its absolute control over what information the public can receive," he wrote. The document also expressed support for legislation in the U.S. Congress known as the Freedom of Information in Vietnam Act of 2003.

Dr. Que, 61 and an endocrinologist, has already spent nearly two decades in detention. He was released in 1998 after serving eight years in prison, after refusing an earlier offer to resettle in the United States. A graduate of Saigon medical school, Dr. Que was dismissed from his post as a hospital director in 1978 for criticizing Vietnam's health care system and policies. He was arrested the same year and detained for 10 years without trial.

After he was released in 1988, he was rearrested in 1990 for advocating freedom and democracy. He was later sentenced to 20 years' hard labor and five years' house arrest, but he was freed in 1998 as part of an amnesty. He has remained under heavy surveillance since.

U.S. legislators have previously nominated Dr. Que for the Nobel Prize for Peace. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch last year awarded him its Hellmann/Hammett cash grant for repressed authors.

RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content. #####

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