By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
HANOI/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- Three computer users jailed for comments they made on an Internet forum and website dedicated to religious freedom in Vietnam have been released by Vietnamese authorities after a story by Christian news agency BosNewsLife sparked international protests, fellow activists confirmed, Friday, August 18.
"Thanks to your article, several international organizations...jumped into this matter and the result is that the three victims were released on July 7, 2006 after nine months in a Communist detention camp," said California-based Anthony Nguyen of The International Movement for Vietnam's Democracy and Human Rights, which hosts website www.tudongonluanonline.com and a chat room via paltalk.com.
A similar statement thanking the Budapest-based news agency signed by human rights official Trung Dung was published on the group's website Friday, August 18.
BosNewsLife began covering the story shortly after October 19 when Nguyen confirmed that detained Truong Quoc Tuan, his brother Truong Quoc Huy and his fiancee Lisa Pham at their Ho Chi Min City home on charges of violating article 19 of the criminal code by inciting the population to "overthrow the government."
About 50 security forces were involved in the arrests and raided the home at 603 Nguyen Kiem Street on October 19, Nguyen told BosNewsLife. Nguyen said the three youngsters visited his group's chat room via Paltalk.com, which allows people to participate in discussions on a variety of subjects.
"Our visitors are from Vietnam and different countries who can voice their opinions either anti or pro Communism. Sometimes they just describe the hardships they have been through [or] the better lives they made for themselves in democratic countries," Nguyen explained.
They apparently also visited the group's separate website, tudongonluanvn.com. He said they were detain on charges of "attempting to conduct a coup d'etat," which he claimed "was just a false accuse the Vietnamese Communist authorities always use in their scheme to suffocate the people's right to freedom of speech."
Following the publicity several Christian and secular organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, began pressuring the Communist authorities of Vietnam and visited their families.
"This is the end of a scandalous case in which three young Internet users spent nearly nine months in detention without being tried," the press freedom organization said Friday, August 18 in a reaction. "We call on the Vietnamese authorities to stop spying on chat forums. We also urge them to release the last two cyber-dissidents still being held in Vietnam, Pham Hong Son and Nguyen Vu Binh."
Despite the reported persecution, Truong Quoc Huy said in an interview that he would "continue to criticize the government on their wrongdoings" and that, as soon as he got out of prison, he joined the 8406 Group, a pro-democracy group created last April.
The US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City had already helped Lisa Pham, who is a US resident, to return to the United States, he added. Truong insisted that he never intended to overthrow the government by force.
"I only spoke out my thoughts and opinions about corruption, the lack of human rights and free speech," he told media. He also confirmed that his interrogators told him authorities had been recording the voice discussions taking place on the Vietnam chat room he visited.
Human rights group say the Vietnamese Internet has been developing since 1997 under the strict control of the Communist Party. In September 2000, the regime proposed a new, inexpensive access formula that would not require a license, Reporters Without Borders said. "Its only drawback is that access is limited to Vietnamese sites," the Paris-based organization added.
Besides Vietnam there is also international concern over the arrests of Internet dissidents, including Christians, in other Asian countries, including China, where authorities demand that US Internet companies working in the country cooperate in controlling the Web.
Last year a co-founder and senior executive of Yahoo Inc., the global Internet giant, confirmed admitted that his company gave Chinese authorities information later used to convict a Chinese journalist now imprisoned for leaking state secrets.
The journalist, Shi Tao, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sending foreign-based Web sites a copy of a message from Chinese authorities warning domestic journalists about reporting on sensitive issues. (With reports from BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest, and from Vietnam and China).
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