Smith Helps Win Release of Vietnamese Pro-Democracy Activist
Out of prison, political dissident is visiting scholar at Catholic University


Washington -- In keeping with his work on behalf of international human rights and international political prisoners, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has helped to secure the release of Vietnam's most celebrated advocate of freedom and democracy and helped assure his position as a visiting scholar at Catholic University this year.

Today Smith met, for the first time, with Mr. Doan Viet Hoat, who for nineteen years was a political prisoner in Vietnam -- a country whose communist regime has been implicated in countless human rights atrocities.

"Doan Viet Hoat is a man who has taken courageous stands on freedom and democracy in the face of tyranny and oppression," said Smith, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights. "He is a renowned teacher, pro-democracy advocate, and political dissident who will be a valuable asset and provide unparalleled insight to law students in the United States."

Smith has worked for the release of political prisoners from around the world as a tireless champion of human rights. Three months ago, Smith traveled overseas to push for the release of Hamilton, New Jersey constituent Michele Keegan and others when they were detained in Burma for handing out pro-democracy literature in that country. Doan Viet Hoat was imprisoned on similar charges: Hoat edited a pro-democracy magazine, entitled "Freedom Forum," which he too was arrested for distributing.

In an article in the Legal Times, reporter Siobhan Roth wrote, "Republican subcommittee chair Christopher Smith of New Jersey and Grover Joseph Rees, the committee's staff director and chief counsel, zoomed in on Hoat's case and reinvigorated efforts to win his release."

"After nineteen years as a political prisoner, Doan Viet Hoat's release from Vietnam has been secured and he is now employed as a visiting scholar at the Catholic University of America's law school," said Smith. "I am confident that the work Doan Viet Hoat will do here in the U.S. will further the cause of human rights and democracy in Vietnam and give hope for the countless people that yearn for freedom around the world. Mr. Hoat said it best -- ‘The old system must be changed.'

"His imprisonment came without a trial, and his treatment in jail was absolutely appalling," Smith stated. "Forced labor and communist indoctrination are par for the course in Vietnamese prisons.

Congressman Smith began work on Hoat's case last year, when he contacted U.S. Information Agency Director Joseph Duffey with the proposal involving Catholic University. He has also conducted hearings on human rights in Vietnam, including one with Hoat's wife, Thuc. Smith is the author of the Human Rights and Refugee Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-319), which mandates that in administering exchange programs for countries that do not enjoy freedom and democracy, USIA involve human rights and democracy activists wherever such involvement is appropriate.

Smith worked with the USIA, overseen by his subcommittee, and helped negotiate an arrangement under the sponsorship of USIA where Hoat would come to the United States on an academic fellowship at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law. The placement came with the help of USIA Director Duffey and Columbus Schools of Law Dean Bernard Dobranski.

"With Professor Hoat's case, it must be emphasized that exchange programs really do promote American values around the world," Smith stated. "After eight months of endless negotiations, I am extremely pleased that law students in America will have the honor and privilege of learning from such a great man."


For immediate release: November 17, 1998
Contact: Ken J. Wolfe / 202-225-3765