Hanoi cracks down on religious, political dissent
By Christina Toh-Pantin

HANOI, June 11 (Reuters) - Communist Vietnam, whose human rights record has come under fresh scrutiny after protests by ethnic hilltribes in April, reined in political and religious dissenters this week, prompting concern among rights groups.

On Tuesday, Tran Khue, an elderly former professor of literature who has criticised government policies, was charged with espionage, a press advocacy group said.

On the same day, police in southern Ho Chi Minh City arrested activist Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang on charges of instigating people to obstruct police officers. The government denies the arrest was linked to religion.

Vietnam is often accused of human rights violations including suppression of religions it does not officially recognise. It routinely denies such accusations. The one-party state does not accept challenges calling for democratic reform.

While Vietnam's rights record is discussed in donor meetings, most aid providers do not directly link funds to improvements.

Vietnam allows six religions to operate, including Protestanism, but insists they function under official organisations.

Ethnic minorities in Vietnam's Central Highlands demonstrated for two days in April over religious and land rights, human rights groups say. Many observe an unsanctioned form of Protestanism.

House, or unofficial, churches are discouraged or shut down. Quang ran church services from his home.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, said the family of Khue, who had been detained for nearly 18 months without charges, was summoned to Ho Chi Minh City People's Court on Tuesday to hear an official read the charge of spying.

Khue, one of nine journalists now in prison, is also accused of violating a house arrest order, the group said, in a statement dated June 10.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined comment on the charge, but said Khue was caught "red handed" violating Vietnamese law and would be tried accordingly.

The former academic was arrested in December 2002 along with another democracy activist, Pham Que Duong, who has not yet been charged.

Khue has written several essays advocating human rights and political reforms, and sent an open letter to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin protesting border pacts between Vietnam and China.

Some critics believe Hanoi ceded too much land to its giant northern neighbour in the treaty.

In Quang's case, human rights groups say the pastor angered authorities after he issued an eight-page report on May 18 that accused the government of violating laws when police arrested four members of his church in early March.

"The Vietnamese government should immediately release the Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang," U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Hanoi has been also clamping down on political dissent expressed over the Internet in the past year.

Last December, Nguyen Vu Binh, a former journalist at a Communist Party magazine, was jailed for seven years for espionage. He had called for political reform. His appeal was denied.

Pham Hong Son, a doctor, was jailed last year for espionage after he translated into Vietnamese a U.S. State Department essay on democracy and posted it on the Internet.

Even journalists at state-run media have not been exempt from punishment.

Vietnam banned two newspaper journalists from reporting and their state-run employers have suspended them after they were accused of inaccurate reporting about corruption.


A alleged Vietnamese crime ``godfather'' and four of his gangster colleagues were executed by firing squad Thursday after being convicted in a major crackdown on crime that is said to have reached into the ruling Communist Party. [He] was the kingpin of Ho Chi Minh City's underworld, using restaurants as fronts for brothels and gambling dens, after starting his life as a dockworker and later a fighter for the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese army. He paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to police and government officials and was so well connected to the city's police that authorities from other provinces had to be brought in to arrest him in December 2001....

The five were shot at dawn at the Long Binh execution grounds in Ho Chi Minh City.... The trial dragged down three senior government officials, including two from the Party's elite Central Committee.... [A] former deputy national chief prosecutor, was sentenced to six years imprisonment while....the former head of state radio, got 10 years, later reduced to nine years on appeal... [the] former vice minister of public security and police chief of Ho Chi Minh City, was given four years.