Reporters Without Borders - 2002 Annual
Surface area : 333,000 sq. km.
Population : 78,137,000
Language : Vietnamese (national language)
Type of State : republic
Head of State : Tran Duc Luong
First Secretary of the Party : Nong Duc Manh
Vietnam annual report 2002
The appointment of Nong Duc Manh at the head of the
Communist Party, in April, raised some hopes for change. But this youngest
member of the Party's Central Committee did nothing to loosen the vice that
muzzles press freedom in Vietnam. One journalist remains in jail, and another
under house arrest.
After Nong Duc Manh was elected to replace the very
conservative Le Kha Phieu, the official press called on the Vietnamese people
to "unite around the Central Committee" of the Party without making
any comments on the appointment of the new leader. Newspapers merely published
a picture and biography of the new first secretary, elected with 100% of votes,
on their front pages.
This year again, Communist leaders reminded the press of
their duty several times and attacked dissidents fighting for freedom of
expression. The very official People's Army Newspaper lashed out at dissidents
on 29 October : "We can easily hear the same voices that, here, call
for freedom of the press and, overseas, foment hostile conspiracies." Two
days later, Nguyen Khoa Diem, member of the Party Politburo, asked the press
to, "carry out its duties to promote national interests" and to be
"vigilant in the fight against propaganda hostile to Vietnam".
Finally, on 5 November, the People's Army Newspaper condemned calls for a
multi-party system. In a front page article, the official daily pointed out
that the country must not "repeat the situation where imperialists are
allowed to move around freely," and condemned Western media for their
support to dissidents and the negative image they give of the Party.
Nevertheless, the press continues modernising. Competition
among the main titles has increased, even though the five Vietnamese language
dailies are controlled by various official organisations : the Communist
Party, the army, the official press agency and cities. But journalists,
especially the young generation, who are increasingly well-trained,
occasionally stray from the Communist Party's editorial directives. In January,
the daily Tuoi Tre (Youth) published a survey on the idols of the young. Ho Chi
Minh was naturally first on the list, but only one current leader was on the
list with a score of 3.2%. The newspaper was printed, but the article was
removed the next day. Some popular newspapers do not hesitate to publish front
page articles about torrid crimes and scandals involving celebrities.
Vietnam now has three national television channels. They are
directly controlled by the Prime minister's cabinet and the Central Committee
of the Communist Party. Two local channels, one in Hanoi and another in Ho Chi
Minh City, are managed by the Party's local people's committee. A cable network
was set up in the country's two largest cities in 1997, but is reserved for
expatriates and hotels catering to foreign tourists. Vietnamese people are not
allowed to receive satellite programmes. Radios, which cover 95% of the
country, are very popular. Also controlled by the Prime Minister's cabinet and
the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the five stations of the Voice of
Vietnam are relayed by some sixty local stations.
Foreign correspondents have to follow especially strict
rules. As soon as they arrive in the country, they must prepare a list of
people they wish to meet. To interview a Vietnamese person, a reporter must be
accompanied by an agent from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If an interview
is made without authorisation, agents of the Ministry demand that the tape be
handed over immediately. On leaving the country, it is common that foreign
journalists' baggage be searched and their films viewed. During a visit to
Vietnam in July, Chris Patten, the European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs,
stated that restrictions on foreign media were "counter-productive and
represent an obstacle to the country's development."
Finally, in November, the journalist and dissident Nguyen
Ngoc Tan died in Ho Chi Minh City. He had been released on 30 April 2000 after
five years in a hard labour camp in Ham Tan (north-east of Ho Chi Minh City).
Eighty years old and seriously ill, he had been released for humanitarian
One journalist jailed
As of 1 January 2002, only one dissident journalist remained
jailed in the country. Nguyen Dinh Huy has been imprisoned since 17 November
1993. In April 1995, he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for attempting
to "overthrow the government of the people." He was accused of being
one of the founders of the Movement for the Unity of the People and the
Construction of Democracy which fought in favour of freedom of the press.
Sixty-eight years old, he is held in camp Z30A, in Dong Nai province. This
former South-Vietnamese journalist has not been allowed to practice his
profession since the end of the war.
Nguyen Xuan Tu, known by his pen name Ha Sy Phu, was
formally placed under house arrest at his Dalat home on 8 February 2001 in
accordance with governmental decree 31/CP. This decision, which also concerned
a former city council official of Dalat, was announced on 12 February by the
Vietnamese police newspaper, Cong An Nhan Dan. According to this publication,
the two dissidents were placed under house arrest because they "made
contact with reactionaries living abroad with a goal of sabotaging
Vietnam." This measure was taken while demonstrations, repressed by the
authorities, were taking place in this Central Highlands province. In December
1995, Ha Sy Phu was arrested and jailed for more than one year for revealing
"state secrets". This 61-year old former biologist, who was released
thanks to international pressure, is one of the leaders of a dissident group in
Dalat that created Langbian magazine. Under house arrest, he is the victim of
daily police harassment (searches at his home, confiscation of his computer,
pressure on his family). Since Ha Sy Phu was released on 4 January 2001, he has
had only five weeks of freedom in the last four years.
A journalist arrested
On 5 September 2001, Cong An (Public Security) agents
arrested journalist Nguyen Vu Binh together with dissidents Pham Que Duong,
Hoang Tien, Hoang Minh Chinh and Duong Hung in Hanoi. They were questioned for
several hours in a police station. The same day, the authorities disconnected
most of the country's dissidents' mobile phones. The following day, a new wave
of arrests was carried out among dissidents. Authorities seemed unhappy about
their criticism of corruption in the Party and their maintaining some dissidents
under house arrest.
Pressure and obstruction
On 15 January 2001, several months after launching the
clandestine magazine Tuong Lai (The Future), dissident Nguyen Dan Que was
summoned to a "session of denunciation and condemnation by the
people" organised by the Public Security of Ho Chi Minh City. He was
accused of "treason and anti-governmental propaganda". Nguyen Dan
Que, journalist and dissident, was imprisoned twice by the Vietnamese
government from 1978 to 1988 and 1990 to 1998.
On 14 February, the government published an executive order
on the protection of "state secrets" which went into effect on 1
April. There are now three levels of information defined as state secrets and
six categories of "top secret" documents including national security,
Party politics, national codes and forbidden zones defined by the government.
Dissidents and journalists have been sentenced to jail terms according to this
idea of "state secrets", though it had never before been officially
defined. Nguyen Hoang Linh, former editor-in-chief of the economic weekly Doanh
Nghiep (Entreprise), was sentenced to twelve months and thirteen days in jail
in 1998, for this charge, after revealing an important corruption affair among
the Vietnamese customs office.
From early February to 15 March, no foreign journalists were
allowed to go to the central Highlands province in the centre of the country,
especially to Daklak, where ethnic minorities have been protesting. The first
organised trip was made under close surveillance by agents of the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. On 27 September, foreign journalists were prevented from
attending the trial of seven ethnic minority activists in Daklak.
On 12 June, police in Ho Chi Minh-City confiscated
documents, and especially memoirs of a former high-level Communist official,
General Tran Do, who has been refused an authorisation to publish a magazine
for several years.
On 11 July, the government promulgated a decree defining a
list of subjects the press could not report. Media publishing prohibited
information would be liable to fines of up to five thousand euros. In addition,
the publication of content considered "pornographic" or
"superstitious" can be punished by a fine of up to two thousand
euros. The authorities said this decision was made to "increase the
responsibility of the press in covering news".
Nong Duc Manh, First Secretary of the Communist Party, has
been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters without Borders.