Mar 30, 2007

Vietnam: Political Dissidents Remain Threatened

Vietnamese authorities have abolished the highly criticized “Decree 31”, a measure used to detain dissidents without trial, however any improvement in the ability of opposition parties to operate remain unseen.

Below is an article published by International Herald Tribune:

Vietnam has abolished a measure used to hold dissidents without trial, a government official said Wednesday. However, analysts said the move could prove to be largely symbolic.

President Nguyen Minh Triet signed a decree last week to abolish "administrative probation," used to hold people suspected of national security crimes, a National Assembly official said on the condition of anonymity, citing policy.

Analysts and Western diplomats praised the president's move, but said authorities still had ways to harass and detain pro-democracy activists who oppose the Communist Party's total control of the government.

"This measure has attracted the most criticism from human rights groups, and getting rid of it is a positive step," said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy. "But does it necessarily improve the ability of dissidents to operate in Vietnam? No."

The detention practice was first included in a piece of 1997 legislation known as "Decree 31."

It allowed provincial governors to impose administrative probation for up to two years on those who "violate the laws, harming national security, but not so serious as to justify prosecution."

Nearly 200 people are thought to have been held under the measure, including Thich Quang Do and Thich Huyen Quang, leaders of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.

Vietnamese courts will still be allowed to impose house arrest on people convicted of national security crimes.

The government has recently come under increasing criticism for starting a crackdown on the country's small number of political dissidents.

A Roman Catholic priest, Nguyen Van Ly, goes on trial this week, charged with undermining the government by trying to organize an independent political organization.

On March 6, the police arrested and jailed two Hanoi human rights lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, accusing them of distributing information harmful to the state.

Human Rights Watch said the three had been targeted in one of the worst crackdowns on Vietnamese dissidents in 20 years.

Vietnam first raised the possibility of abolishing administrative probation in August 2006.

State-controlled media last September quoted a government report as saying that "in the initial stage of the revolutionary regime, this measure proved to be effective to defend the regime, maintain political security and social order."

"Apart from the achievements, this measure has shown many limitations in the context of recent international integration," the report said. "Some regulations of the decree did not meet the rights of people enshrined in the Constitution." 

The United States, the European Community and international rights groups have frequently criticized Vietnam for jailing dissidents, but Vietnamese authorities insist they only arrest people who violate the law.