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Vietnamese Dissident Writer Sentenced on Spy Charges - 2003-06-18

Vietnam has sentenced a dissident Internet writer to 13 years in prison on charges of spying. Phan Hong Son is one of at least five cyber-dissidents jailed in the communist country.

The gate around the Hanoi People's Court was blocked by plainclothes police, and journalists were barred from the trial of dissident writer Phan Hong Son. It took just a few hours for the judge to rule him guilty of espionage and sentence him to 13 years in prison.

Phan Hong Son was arrested in March 2002, when police raided his home and seized his computer. They accused him of passing information to anti-communist groups abroad. One of the pieces of evidence was his translation of an article from a State Department web site titled "What Is Democracy?"

Human rights groups and press freedom advocates have condemned the sentence.

They say the trial is part of a larger crackdown on political expression. At least eight dissident writers have been imprisoned during the past two years, five of them for their Internet writings.

Vietnam's government tightly controls newspapers and radio. In the past year, the ruling Communist Party has talked about how to control the flow of information on the Internet. The government is blocking an estimated 2,000 sites, mostly pornography and web pages from anti-communist Vietnamese living overseas.

New rules being discussed target Internet cafes. They would require background checks to open an Internet cafe and would hold owners responsible for their customers' subversive activity in cyberspace.