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6/25/03 - VIETNAM'S CAPTIVE MEDIA - 2003-06-27

Vietnamese authorities have sentenced Pham Hong Son, a medical doctor and political dissident, to thirteen years in prison and an additional three years of house arrest. For publishing articles on the internet calling for democracy and human rights in Vietnam, he was charged with "espionage" and several other vague and arbitrary offenses. These include translating and republishing an internet article titled, "What is Democracy?" Vietnam's imprisonment of Dr. Son and other dissidents is a textbook example of what a democracy isn't. Dr. Son was arrested in March 2002. He was detained without trial for fifteen months. His wife was not permitted to see him until she was called briefly to testify at his trial more than a year later. The trial was closed to the press and foreign diplomats. Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, says Dr. Son's imprisonment is a message to other dissidents:

"With several writers now imprisoned for having put their opinions out there online on the internet, it is bound to have a very chilling effect on others who would like to use that means to disseminate dissenting views or criticism of the government. Now they can see what potentially might happen. In this case -- a very harsh thirteen year prison sentence."

Other cyber dissidents jailed by the Vietnamese government include Le Chi Quang and Nguyen Khac Toan. Professor Tran Van Khue and military historian Pham Que Duong were arrested in December 2002 and are still awaiting trial.

Vietnam's Communist government controls all print and electronic media. Access to foreign media is controlled. The Vietnamese government owns and controls the country's only internet access provider. Internet use is closely monitored. Anything the government doesn't want the Vietnamese people to see -- including calls for an end to one-party rule -- is blocked by government internet censors.

Despite such police-state repression, more and more Vietnamese are speaking out for democratic reform. And they are being heard.