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Human Rights Groups Condemn Hanoi's Crackdown on Free Speech - 2002-07-24

International rights groups are condemning the Vietnamese government for detaining and interrogating activist Nguyen Vu Binh. They say Hanoi is waging a crackdown on free speech.

Police raided the home of dissident writer Nguyen Vu Binh on Saturday, seizing his files and searching his personal computer. He was taken away by police and released later that day.

On Sunday, Mr. Binh was hauled in for another day of questioning, and his family says he is being harassed daily.

The actions against Mr. Binh prompted an outcry from the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The group accuses Vietnam's communist government of waging a campaign against freedom of expression.

Demelza Stubbings is the Asia program director for rights group Amnesty International in London. She says there has been an "ongoing crackdown" on writers and dissidents for about 18 months. Ms. Stubbings says dissidents who use the Internet, such as Mr. Binh, are particularly targeted.

"There are ideas and views and criticisms of the Vietnamese government that are available on the Internet that are clearly not available in Vietnam in the print and broadcast media," she explained. " And the issue with the Internet as far as the Vietnamese government is concerned is that people can get access to ideas and views that they would prefer them not to see."

Hanoi says Mr. Binh was never under arrest and was merely questioned. Still, a statement from the Foreign Ministry Wednesday declares him a danger to public order and says police must closely watch him.

Mr. Binh worked for 10 years as a journalist for the official Communist Party magazine, but left last year to form an independent political party. That is illegal in Vietnam and Mr. Binh has been in and out of trouble ever since.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Binh and 16 other intellectuals signed an open letter calling on the Communist Party to release political prisoners and moves toward multi-party democracy.

Mr. Binh is the fifth writer to land in hot water in Vietnam this year for criticizing the government. Four others remain in police custody.

Vietnam rejects charges it has no freedom of expression as "slander". But the Communist Party controls almost all media in the country and the prime minister recently called for stricter control over the Internet.