[Vacets-local-dc] [Transcript of VOA's interview with Dr. Nguyen Dan Que]


CONTENT=This show broadcast Saturday.


Host: Human rights in Vietnam. Next, On the Line.

Host: In February, Vietnam finally released several political and religious prisoners of conscience, including Fr. Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly, Huynh Van Ba, Nguyen Dinh Huy, and Dr. Nguyen Dan Que. U-S State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U-S urges the government of Vietnam to permit these and other individuals to express their political views freely and practice religion peacefully in an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect. The State Department, in its annual survey of human rights around the world, listed Vietnam as a country of particular concern. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly are all restricted in Vietnam. And security forces have beaten and detained religious believers. Dr. Nguyen Dan Que has been repeatedly arrested for speaking out in favor of human rights and democracy. He has spent some twenty years imprisoned by authorities in Vietnam. Dr. Que's most recent stretch in jail began when he challenged the Vietnamese

government's assertion that it allowed free speech. Dr. Que is now at home in Ho Chi Minh City, where he is under surveillance by Vietnam's Communist regime. But he joins us now, by phone, to talk about his efforts to bring non-violent democratic change to Vietnam. Welcome and thanks for joining us Dr. Que. Dr. Que what is the state of human rights and political rights in Vietnam right now?

Que: I can tell you with certainty that human rights in Vietnam not only have not improved, but have gotten worse in recent years. Vietnam is still under the exclusive rule of the Communist Party, which has been in power since 1945. There is no separation of power -- the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government are all controlled by the Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Every opposition activist is imprisoned. All religions are manipulated by the State, which recognizes only churches established by the Communist Party, which were called 'state-run churches' by the people in Vietnam. The United Buddhist Church of Vietnam is banned. The patriarch of the church, Reverend Thich Huyen Quang, and his deputy, Reverend Thich Quang Do, have been detained for decades. All other religions -- such as Protestantism, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, etc. are facing many difficulties and are not allowed to gather for worship at homes. The Vatican appointments of Catholic

clergy have to be approved by the government in Hanoi. Anyone who wants to pursue a religious life must get approval from the government. The rights of movement and religious freedom of ethnic minorities are seriously violated.

In order to avoid the condemnation of the international community, the Communists have changed their tactics and eased the restrictions on the general public's religious activities. Instead, they focus on the suppression of religious leaders -- from surveillance, isolation, to imprisonment.

Host: Is there any freedom of speech in Vietnam right now? Are people able to speak either in the press or through the internet, or is that still being stifled?

Que: There is no freedom of _expression, either in the press or on the Internet, in Vietnam today. That I can attest to. The government in Hanoi frequently claims that there are more than five hundred newspapers and dozens of radio and T-V stations in the country. But all of those are run by the State. All the news is strictly censored and the flow of information is one-sided. Today, Vietnam still doesn't have a single privately owned newspaper or TV station. Anyone who criticizes the erroneous policies of the Party is either threatened by the police, or fired from his job. Or, if they are party members, they are kicked out of the Party. Those who keep fighting for their rights are imprisoned. Any materials advocating democracy have to be secretly printed and handed out from one person to another.

Host: Now, Vietnamese officials say however that the country is in compliance with the United Nations international covenant on civil and political rights. Is there any evidence of that in Vietnam?

Que: No. I don't see any evidence of the Hanoi government adhering to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). On the contrary, I only see a series of violations. The people in Vietnam are not allowed to directly elect their high-level leaders, such as the head of state or the prime minister. Anyone who wants to run for Congress or for the People's Committees of local governments has to be nominated by the National Front. On voting day police come to every house in the community to intimidate people, telling them to go to cast their ballots. Therefore, you should not be surprised when you hear that voter turnout in Vietnam frequently reaches eighty or ninety percent, and in many places is almost one hundred percent. The state doesn't recognize the right of private property or the right to own land. The freedoms of movement and residence are frequently undermined by the public security personnel who inspect people's certificates of residency, identity cards,

and certificates of temporary residency, etc. Democracy activists, including religious figures, are often detained at their houses, temples or churches. Political prisoners are denied fair trials and are not allowed to defend themselves before the court or to have lawyers to represent them. Vietnam signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1982 but its adherence is on paper only. In reality, the covenant is violated by the Article IV of the Constitution -- which calls for the exclusive right of leadership of the Communist Party. The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is also violated by Decree No. thirty-one -- C-P, which allows the government to detain people from six months to two years without charges. Even when political prisoners are released, they don't have their civil rights restored. Their movements are severely restricted, and they are not allowed to travel, even just for a couple of days. I want to ask the Hanoi authorities to release all

political prisoners and to restore their civil rights in full and to let them express their political views.

Host: Is the government -- you have been detained before on charges of spying for trying to get information out. Are there others who are still in jail? Is that charge still being used against others who are still in Vietnam to imprison them when they try to speak out in Vietnam?

Que: The Communists falsely charge political activists with spying for foreign countries if they find any trace of connections with foreigners or with Vietnamese abroad. If they can't find anything to trump up espionage charges then they bring a charge of abusing democratic rights to jeopardize the interests of the State, and the rights and interests of citizens. That's what they put me on trial for after they failed in their attempt to charge me with espionage. We don't know the exact number of people who have been charged by Hanoi with spying or abusing the rights of freedom and democracy because often time their sentences are not made public or reported in the newspapers.

Host: Now you've called for many years for democracy as the foundation of supporting human rights in Vietnam. What do you think needs to happen now for Vietnam to take steps towards democracy? What do you hope to achieve next?

Que: I propose a nine point road map for democratization of Vietnam. Number one, Vietnamese authorities must end the jamming of the broadcasting programs in Vietnamese of the V-O-A and the R-F-A to let information flow freely into the country. Number two, Vietnam must have freedom of the press - political activists must be able to use radio and T-V to express their views. Number three, the government has to release all political and religious prisoners and to allow the International Red Cross to monitor all prisons in Vietnam. Number four, Vietnam authorities must be in full compliance with provisions and principles of the U-N regarding religious freedom, and they have to treat all religions equally. Number five, Article Four of the Constitution, granting the Communist Party of Vietnam the exclusive right to rule the country, has to be abolished. And Decree Thirty-one C-P, which allows the police to detain people from six months to two years without charge, has to be annulled

immediately. After concrete results have been achieved for the objectives mentioned above, we would ask for the following steps to move the democratization process forward. Number six, the Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam must respect the human rights, civil rights and property rights of the people. Number seven, we have to separate the Party from the government at all levels. Number eight, the current Parliament shall be in charge of legislating a new election law which reflects the principles of pluralism, fairness, and freedom. Number nine, the administration, which has been separated from the Party, shall follow the provisions of the new election law to hold fair and free elections under international monitoring to choose a constitutional assembly.

Host: And how do you think that that will happen? Are people in Vietnam aware of other democracy movements going on in the world and taking any lessons from them?

Que: People around the world are all excited by rigorous activities of those organizations that promote human rights and democracy, especially after the recent elections in Afghanistan and Iraq. The human rights report of U-S Department of State and the commitment President Bush made to human rights and democracy for the world are bringing excitement and enthusiasm to millions of people in Vietnam. People in my country realize that democracy and development have to go together hand-in-hand. The economic opening of Vietnam and the wind of democracy, which is blowing strongly into the country, present an excellent opportunity for the transformation from single-party dictatorship to democracy, which will be brought about by fair, free elections under international monitoring.

Host: Well, Dr. Que does pressure from the outside world both from various democratic governments and also from international organizations, human rights organizations does that help the cause of human rights and democracy in Vietnam or does it hurt it?

Que: Yes. I believe the pressure from the US government and human rights organizations has been beneficial for the process of democratization of Vietnam to move forward and to become stronger. Accompanied by the economic opening to the outside world, the aspirations for human rights and democracy are rising rapidly in our country. It is now quite obvious that the dominant position of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam is weakening while the political awareness and the masses in Vietnam are becoming stronger everyday. When the power of the people becomes equal and begins to surge over the ruling forces it will be the right time for our nation to stand up and to make a regime change through fair, free elections under international monitoring.

Host: Well Dr. Que, I'd like to thank you for joining us today by phone from Ho Chi Minh City, and I'd like to turn now our panel here in the studio. Joining us to continue our conversation about human rights in Vietnam are Vietnamese human rights activist Dr. Doan Viet Hoat; Al Santoli, president of the Asia-America Initiative and joining us by phone from Beirut, Lebanon, Claudia Rosett, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Host: Dr. Doan Viet Hoat, you yourself have been a political prisoner in Vietnam and what can you tell us about the situation there now. Is it changing? Will there be more change? How is that going to happen?

Hoat: Oh yes, there are some changes in the economy there, yes of course, but for political and cultural areas I don't think there is much change.

Host: There's been a lot of talk about how economic changes will bring about changes in political rights and human rights and you don't see that that's happened yet?

Hoat: No I don't think so. I think that besides economic changes, we need to pressure for changes in social, cultural, information areas before we can have a better change for our society in general.

Host: Al Santoli, what do you make of the situation in Vietnam and in particular, are there any changes going on in human rights and political rights there?

Santoli: I think what Vietnam is trying to do now is emulate, up to a certain degree, what China has been doing, which is to keep centralized party control at the same time as trying to attract foreign investment. The problem they're going to have is they can't compete with China.

Host: Claudia Rosett are you there by phone?

Rosett: Yes, hi.

Host: What's your sense of where Vietnam is right now and what hope there is for there to be some change?

Rosett: Vietnam has been stuck politically for a long time. There's hope for change if as Dr. Que said, people can somehow come together more in a way that lets them talk about the problem, which is exactly what he's trying to do. But, if I could take you back a minute, I first tried to interview Dr. Que in 1992. And I was in Vietnam. They wouldn't let me see him, they wouldn't let me see his family, and I finally asked could I see the judge who sentenced him? That they let me do. And the judge produced a thick dossier and explained to me that while Vietnam was serious about trying to open and enrich its economy, we should not believe -- there was no reason to think that they were eager to open up their political process.

Host: Dr. Doan Viet Hoat, what is behind the reports that we hear of suppression of religious liberties in Vietnam? Why is that so much of a piece with the suppression of political liberties in Vietnam?

Hoat: Well, I think that religious liberty and political liberties have a very close relationship because religious freedom means the freedom of _expression, of ideas, of beliefs. And if you don't have that freedom of _expression, that freedom of belief, then you don't have freedom of religions. Of course the people now can go to the church and temples very easily, but the problem now is the organized churches are controlled by the government, not the people who go to the church. So, this is the problem of freedom of organization, assembly and freedom of _expression in terms of religious freedom. I think that if you don't have freedom of _expression or freedom of assembly, politically speaking or religiously speaking, then you don't have freedom or human rights. And I think that this is the first step towards democracy.

Host: Al Santoli, does Vietnam see the organization that comes out of churches and civil society institutions like churches as a threat to its control?

Santoli: Yes, absolutely. Any time that you have people that believe in something outside the party -- and I would say like another lesson from China is that when China allowed groups like the Falun Gong group which was created by the state in order to take pressure off of their lack of social services, what they learned is that people starting believing in honesty, people started believing in holding party officials accountable for their behavior.

Host: Claudia Rosett, which do you see leading the way, if there is going to be change in Vietnam? Will it be economic change, or will it be democratic change, or will it be, perhaps some kind of change in religious freedom that may lead to other changes?

Rosett: You know, any one of those things can lever something up, any one of them is not enough by itself. What we've seen over many years of this is opening up an economy can give you openings for political reform but it doesn't by any stretch make it a sure thing. Political reform involves building institutions where you need some discrete changes to happen, and that's not happening in Vietnam. So, any one of these is a help, none of them is enough until actually see some qualitative change in the way the country is run. We need competition in politics basically -- serious competition.

Host: Well, Dr. Doan Viet Hoat where is there room for people to push for some competition in politics for some opening up? What's your best hope for how change might get in place in Vietnam?

Hoat: I think that we have to look at Vietnam in a comprehensive approach, I think. What I mean by comprehensive is that we have to look for changes both in the economic, cultural and political areas, not only in economic areas. Even in economic areas if you don't have freedom of _expression, freedom of information for example, you cannot have competition. Because if the people, especially the entrepreneurs don't have access -- free access to information and the fastest most progressive information on business on science on many things, then you cannot compete with other countries. So, even in economic competition, you need to have freedom: Freedom of information and freedom of _expression.

Host: Well, Al Santoli, do you think the economic pressures of needing free information for a market to function are likely to force the government to open some greater room for information to travel around?

Santoli: Well, I think the key thing is the Western countries, including Japan and Singapore as Eastern Countries with a free market, to put pressure on Vietnam to open the transparency of their economy. One of the biggest problems now is that people were kind of looking at Vietnam as kind of an alternative to China giving them a little bit of slack in terms of investment but not demanding that they open their economic books to scrutiny. For instance, it's still an imprisonable offense if anybody in Vietnam talks about their finances. If any state agency talks about their financial viability or any private company which unfortunately are mostly all state owned or run by corrupt officials, who have their families running companies, it's an imprisonable offense. So there can't really be that openness leading to real change until Vietnam's economy becomes transparent.

Host: Well, Claudia Rosett, Al Santoli mentions a role for governments in Singapore, in Japan, to put pressure on Vietnam. What's your sense of the sense to which outside pressure helps, or the extent to which it hurts efforts to foster change?

Rosett: Oh, I think it helps. There are limits to what it can do. It's not going to necessarily transform things, but governments like to be well thought of. Vietnam collects aid. That's part of what has been involved in the recent venting of prisoners, because they want to keep that flow. They want to be well received when they go places. There is actual personal face involved for the officials who have to deal with the world, and the pattern very often is that there will be expressions of great indignation when pressure is brought to bear, but there will also be a little bit of give in the direction of the pressure. So I think there's great virtue to applying pressure.

Host: Im afraid that's all the time we have for today. I'd like to thank my guests: Vietnamese human rights activist Dr. Doan Viet Hoat; Al Santoli of the Asia America Initiative and Claudia Rosett of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. And, of course, joining us at the top of the show by phone from Ho Chi Minh City, was Vietnamese dissident and human rights advocate, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que. For On the Line, I'm Eric Felten.


Transcribed by hai_tran at yahoo.com