Zoe Lofgren

Opening Remarks at the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam - Oct. 1, 2003

Zoe Lofgren
October 01, 2003— Washington, DC
Congressional Caucus on Vietnam
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Thank you very much for those very kind remarks, Loretta, and I would like also to welcome all of you to our briefing on the current state of freedom of speech in Vietnam. I would like to give a special thanks to our witnesses for being here, especially to the witnesses who flew all the way from California to be here today.

The dismal state of freedom of the press and the lack of the free flow of information in Vietnam needs to be heard, and I am pleased that you are all here to help us raise awareness in Congress and in the public at large. It's discouraging, actually, that Congresswoman Sanchez and I have to continually hold these briefings on an almost biannual basis, and I certainly look forward to some day when we no longer need to have these briefings, that freedom has actually occurred in Vietnam.

Unfortunately, Vietnamese citizens are being persecuted for communicating with the outside world at a time when the Vietnamese Government is expressing interest in becoming more integrated with the global community. The Vietnamese Constitution says the citizen shall enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, the right to be informed, the right to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations in accordance with the provisions of the law.

However, the Vietnamese Government has systematically suppressed the free flow of information and the freedom of the press with decrees and directives that subvert the free flow of information under the guise of national security. There are persistent reports of imprisoned journalists and jammed radio and Internet sites all over Vietnam.

Just a few weeks ago, relatives of a detained priest, Phuong Lee, were sentenced to three to five years for so-called "abuse of democratic freedoms," when it appears that all they were doing was exercising those very democratic freedoms they supposedly abused. Reporters Without Borders says Tranh Hue, a 67-year-old literature teacher and founder of an anticorruption group, was arrested on December 29 of last year for posting government criticism on the Internet. He has been held without trial, and Government authorities will not confirm or deny rumors that he may have died in detention.

On February 21 of last year, Reporters Without Borders told us that Le Chi Quang was arrested at a cybercafe in Hanoi by an undercover police officer for allegedly posting "dangerous information" on the Internet. The International Institute for Vietnam reports that Professor Nguyen Dinh Hue, a journalist and writer, was arrested in 1993 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for urging the Vietnamese Government to respect freedom of press, expression, creativity, publication and dissemination of information. He remains in prison today.

And another report from the International Institute for Vietnam: Nguyen Kat Quan has been serving a 12-year sentence since December of2002 for posting Internet reports on protests about Government corruption. Worse yet is report after report of political dissidents detained without trial: Nguyen Bu Binh for allegedly advocating democracy in essays posted on the Internet; Nguyen Duen Hue, a physician and editor of an underground newsletter, being held for over 18 years in various hard labor camps. The list really goes on and on.

Reporters Without Borders says that "Vietnam remains one of the world's most repressive countries where the Internet is concerned." They say, and again, I quote: "The Vietnamese Government blocks access to Websites it considers politically and morally dangerous, including foreign news sites and those of human rights organizations set up by Vietnamese-Americans abroad." Moreover, Reporters Without Borders says the Government monitors the sites people visit and regularly hacks into Websites they consider undesirable.

One religious movement says the Vietnamese Government sends computer viruses by email to the movement's followers. This is just unacceptable. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Reporters Without Borders and the International Institute for Vietnam are not alone. Members of Congress have repeatedly sent letters to the Vietnamese Government asking them to release prisoners of conscience and to refrain from various forms of political, religious and cultural oppression. Nobel Peace Prize laureates have written the Prime Minister of Vietnam on behalf of Dr. Nguyen Dinh Hue, a Vietnamese doctor who has been held incommunicado.

The U.S. State Department has steadily called for the release of prisoners. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these requests seem to fall on deaf ears. Until Vietnam stops oppressing its people, the Commission on International Religious Freedom, Reporters Without Borders, the International Institute for Vietnam, Members of Congress and other organizations and individuals will continue to hold press conferences to raise awareness. We will form and participate in Congressional caucuses that focus on human rights abuses in Vietnam. We will advocate for legislation such as the Vietnam Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information in Vietnam Act. We will hold Congressional briefings like this one to inform Congress and the public of Vietnam's Government's restrictions on information and the media, because after all, ifwe cannot have a free flow of information, we cannot, in the end, have freedom and democracy. We want to make sure that the whole world is watching, and we will not cease until we see improvements in Vietnam.

Speech from http://forms.house.gov/lofgren/iss_humanrights_viet.pdf.