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Vietnam arrest over Middle East protest calls

Updated March 2, 2011 11:06:52

On the weekend, police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested veteran activist, Nguyen Dan Que, after he urged urban youth to agitate for change.

Police allege Dr Que's computer contained 60,000 items of what they called 'anti-state' material.

Reuters news agency says Dr Que accused the communist leaders of driving Vietnam to the brink of bankruptcy through corruption and waste.

It quotes him as saying that the Middle East uprisings gave Vietnam's urban youth an historical opportunity.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Janice Beanland, Amnesty International's Southeast Asia researcher

http://www.abc.net.au/ra/connectasia/stories/m1966668.asx

BEAMLAND: We're unable to confirm them at this moment in time, but it does seem that he has been released on bail if you will and is required to return daily for questioning.

LAM: So background it a little bit for us, what happened to Nguyen Dan Que, what did he try to do?

BEAMLAND: My understanding is that Dr Que was arrested on Saturday and that he had in the last week written a kind of an appeal or a statement calling for Vietnamese people to have demonstrations referencing the recent protests in the Middle East and Africa. He also had written an article which was published in the Washington Post on the same day that he was arrested, which criticised the position of the Vietnamese Government on human rights. He made quite strong criticism and both these things are possibly believed to be the reason for his arrest at this time.

LAM: So Dr Que did not actually ask for people to take to the streets?

BEAMLAND: I think that's unclear. I think he just asked them to - I'm not sure of the exact wording, but I think that he suggested that they might want to protest and demonstrate. It's not so surprising, given the way in which the Vietnamese government is currently targeting peaceful dissidents who are just exercising their right to freedom of expression.

LAM: Do you think Vietnam's government, like China, has been keeping a tight reign on media coverage of the Middle East uprisings?

BEAMLAND: I think that it is has. I mean there has been coverage in the Vietnamese media, but it is quite limited.

LAM: What do you make of the fact that calls for Middle East-style protests are actually filtering through, well definitely to China and now it would seem to Vietnam as well?

BEAMLAND: Well, I think it's inevitable really. People who are like Dr Que, who are, he's a long time activist both for political reform and for human rights, will come out and say things that they are quite entitled to say. I mean this is saying what you think about a political system or saying what you think about the necessity to uphold human rights. It's certainly not a crime in any language or in any country.

LAM: Indeed, I understand that Dr Que himself has spent some time in jail?

BEAMLAND: Yes, Dr Que has spent at least 19 years in prison. He's previously been arrested on three other occasions. Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience at that time and he certainly sacrificed a big part of life for the very strong beliefs that he has.

LAM: What do you think is likely to happen to Nguyen Dan Que now?

BEAMLAND: I think that just based on the official media reports that we've seen about his arrest, it seems that he could well be charged under Article 79 of the National Security Section of the penal code and that is for activities attempting to overthrow the government, which, of course, I think is quite ludicrous. But if he is indeed charged under that legislation, then he could face another very long prison sentence.

LAM: And will Amnesty continue to make representations on his behalf?

BEAMLAND: Absolutely, as with all peaceful dissidents who are currently in jail at the moment in Vietnam. I mean there are at least 30 prisoners of conscience known to Amnesty International that we are advocating on behalf of and there are others who are in pre-trial detention.

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