- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

HANOI — Vietnamese cyber-dissident Pham Hong Son was jailed for 13 years yesterday on a spying conviction relating to an article about democracy that he posted on the Internet, judicial sources said.

The 34-year-old doctor was convicted of espionage after a half-day trial at the Hanoi People’s Court. He was also ordered to be kept under house arrest for three years after his release from jail.

Mr. Son was arrested in Hanoi on March 27, 2002, a few weeks after translating into Vietnamese and publishing online a feature titled “What Is Democracy,” extracted from the U.S. State Department’s Web site.

The case has focused international attention on Vietnam’s human rights record.

Foreign diplomats were barred from entering the court yesterday. But word of the sentencing came as no surprise to the diplomatic community in Vietnam, where most trials, and particularly those involving political and religious dissidents, are closed to diplomats and foreign journalists.

“We knew the minimum sentence was 12 years and the maximum was the death penalty,” one Western diplomat said. “The sentence is hardly surprising, which does not mean it is right.”

Diplomats from the United States, Canada, Australia and several European Union countries had tried in vain to gain access to the proceedings, after tabling a formal request with the Vietnamese authorities.

Security officers prevented the diplomats from entering the courthouse, and plainclothes officers could be seen filming the standoff.

“We had sent a request to the authorities and did not get any answer,” another diplomat said. “These things have happened before.”

The London-based rights group Amnesty International blasted the court decision, saying the Vietnamese government had taken advantage of vague legislation to convict Mr. Son.

“Once again the Vietnamese authorities are showing blatant disregard for freedom of expression and fundamental human rights. To accuse Dr. Pham Hong Son of espionage is a travesty of justice,” the organization said in a statement.

A document presented as the indictment in the trial and obtained by Agence France-Presse accuses him of contact with “political opportunists” and “reactionary forces overseas.”

It also says he obtained information from “articles describing distorted policies of the Communist Party as well as slander against the government.”

The authorities confiscated a computer and seized numerous e-mail messages from “reactionary forces overseas,” a term used to describe Vietnam’s enemies abroad. He was also accused of collecting money from abroad for dissidents.

“This is yet another outrageous example of Vietnam using loosely worded national security legislation to criminalize activities which are regarded as perfectly legal under international law and in most countries of the world,” Amnesty stated.

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