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2/8/03 - VIETNAM'S CYBER DISSIDENTS - 2003-02-10

Vietnam's government continues to suppress freedom of expression. Its latest target: the growing use of the Internet by Vietnamese dissidents such as Le Chi Quang [lay chee kwahng].

Le Chi Quang is a young lawyer and human rights activist. Soon after graduating from law school in 2000, he began to write about human rights abuses by Vietnam's Communist regime. His articles were banned by Vietnam's government-controlled press but were published abroad and on the Internet. He was placed under house arrest in September 2001. His phone service was cut off. Friends and relatives were warned by authorities to stay away from him. He was prevented from finding work as an attorney.

Le Chi Quang continued to publish criticism of the Vietnamese government on the Internet. In February 2002, he was arrested at an Internet café in Hanoi. In October, he was sentenced to four years in prison for so-called "acts of propaganda against the state." Friends and supporters fear for his life. Physicians from around the world sent an open letter to Vietnamese authorities in November warning that Le Chi Quang suffers from kidney disease and needs immediate treatment.

Other cyber-dissidents detained by the Vietnamese government include Tran Van Khue [tran van kway]. According to Human Rights Watch, the sixty-six-year-old scholar was arrested last March and soon placed under two years detention for publishing on the Internet a critical letter he wrote to China's president, Jiang Zemin. Still awaiting trial is Pham Hong Son [fahm hong son]. He, too, was arrested last March after translating and publishing an article by the U.S. State Department titled "What is Democracy?"

The Vietnamese government owns and controls the country's only Internet access provider. Internet use is closely monitored by the government. Anything the government doesn't want the Vietnamese people to hear -- including calls for an end to one-party rule -- is blocked by government Internet censors. An estimated two-thousand Web sites are currently being blocked in Vietnam.

Officials of Vietnam's Ministry of Culture, the government office that oversees Internet censorship, reportedly want tougher controls. They would like to encourage cyber café owners to report unauthorized use of the Internet and enforce government restrictions on freedom of expression. But the bureaucrats miss the point. The Vietnamese people are turning in increasing numbers to the Internet because they are tired of censorship and all forms of repression.