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US Blasts Vietnam For Jail Sentence of Internet Dissident - 2003-12-31

The United States is strongly condemning the sentencing of a Vietnamese Internet journalist for espionage. The State Department said the seven-year prison term handed down Tuesday against the journalist, Nguyen Vu Binh, was the latest in a series of similar prosecutions.

The State Department has condemned the trial and sentencing of Mr. Binh in unusually strong terms, and is calling on the government in Hanoi to immediately release him and others it says have been prosecuted in recent months for posting their views on the Internet.

A former writer at a Vietnamese communist party magazine, the 35-year-old Mr. Binh was sentenced to seven years in prison and an additional two years of house arrest on Tuesday for spying in a Hanoi trial that was closed to the news media and foreign diplomats.

It was not clear who he was accused of spying for.

The private monitoring group Human Rights Watch said Mr. Binh was arrested in September 2002 for criticizing the terms of a China-Vietnam border treaty in an article distributed on the Internet. It said he had also signed a group petition urging human rights reforms, and had sought to form an independent political party.

At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said U.S. officials are especially concerned that Vietnamese authorities may have targeted Mr. Binh for providing written testimony to two U.S. congressional panels.

He said the sentencing of Mr. Binh for the peaceful expression of his views "clearly violates" international standards for the protection of human rights, and he said the United States remains concerned in general about Vietnam's treatment of dissent.

"This is, I would note, the third case that we are aware of this year that has involved an individual who posted his views on the Internet," he said. "The United States urges the government of Vietnam to immediately release Mr. Binh and all those imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views, And we strongly urge the government of Vietnam to put an end to its ongoing repression of peaceful dissent."

Last June, a Vietnamese doctor, Pham Hong Son, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for espionage after he translated into Vietnamese an essay on democracy from the U.S. State Department's Internet web site. His term was later reduced to five years.

Two other dissidents were also jailed in 2002 for Internet criticism of the Hanoi government.

U.S. officials have said the Vietnamese government's human rights record and lagging performance on economic reforms have hindered the development of fuller bilateral relations.

The State Department's latest report on human rights conditions worldwide, issued last March, said Vietnam's human rights record "remained poor" and that it continued to commit serious abuses.

It said these included the physical abuse of detainees and incidents of arbitrary detention of citizens, including jailings for the peaceful expression of political and religious views.