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Call for release of pro-democracy activist

(HRW/IFEX) - The following is a 31 May 2000 Human Rights Watch press release:


(New York, May 31, 2000) - Human Rights Watch today called for the immediate release of Vietnamese dissident Ha Sy Phu. Police in Lam Dong province put Mr. Ha under house arrest on May 12, 2000, and threatened to charge him with treason under Article 72 of Vietnam's Criminal Code. If put on trial and convicted, Mr. Ha could face a sentence from seven years' imprisonment to
the death penalty.

Vietnamese authorities apparently believe that Mr. Ha is connected to the drafters of an open appeal for greater democracy being prepared by some intellectual dissidents. Mr. Ha is a biologist and former vice-director of the Vietnamese Institute of Science in Dalat.

"Unless there is clear evidence that Mr. Ha committed criminal acts, he should be immediately released," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "It is a violation of international law and the Vietnamese Constitution to detain anyone simply for the peaceful expression of his political views."

On April 28, police searched Mr. Ha's house in Dalat, Lam Dong province, and confiscated his work materials including computer, printer, and diskettes. On May 12 police returned to notify Mr. Ha of two written decisions, both signed on May 10 by Col. Nguyen Van Do, police chief of Lam Dong province. Decision 01/QD orders the house arrest of Mr. Ha and requires that he report to the Dalat police headquarters on a daily basis for interrogation. Decision 07/QD calls for Mr. Ha to be tried for treason against the nation under Article 72 of the Criminal Code. However, thus far no court has issued an arrest warrant and he has not been formally charged.

The police action took place after the authorities searched the house of another government critic, Mai Thai Linh, formerly a member of the Communist Party of Vietnam and People's Committee in Lam Dong province. In Linh's house, police found a letter from Mr. Ha and a copy of a dissent statement. Last year, when police searched the house of Hanoi dissident Nguyen Thanh Giang, they found a letter requesting Giang to gather signatures on the dissent statement, which led to Giang's arrest in March 1999.

Mr. Ha is a member of a group of intellectual dissidents in Dalat and author of various critiques of the Communist system. In December 1995 he was arrested and charged with "revealing state secrets" for being in possession of a letter from then-Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet to the Politburo, calling for political and economic reforms. Mr. Ha was imprisoned without trial until August 1996, when he was sentenced to one year in prison. After his release, he returned to his home in Dalat, where he has lived under unofficial house arrest ever since. His telephone line has been monitored and his home placed under surveillance. Security police have periodically searched his house and confiscated his computer and personal papers - twice within the last twelve months alone.

"The Vietnamese government should release all political prisoners and stop persecuting individuals for peaceful political dissent," said Jendrzejczyk.

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