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Vietnam: Human Rights Housecleaning and Prisoner Release Before Greater U.S. Economic Openness

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By John E. Carey
September 16, 2006

On July 18, 2006, in a commentary essay in The Washington Times newspaper titled "Trade With Vietnam," authors Richard Armitage and Randy Schriver said, "Clearly, there are serious shortcomings with respect to human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam today. However, we are confident that once Vietnam embraces the global rules-based trading system, the country will set in motion a variety of forces that will ultimately lead to a freer nation."

The Armitage/Schriver theory of human rights might be paraphrased as, "Once the leaders of Vietnam start making real money due to trade with the U.S., they may tire of jailing innocent people and repressing religious groups."

Vietnam is seeking entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Vietnam is also seeking U.S. Congressional approval for Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) from the U.S. The President of the United States is expected to travel to Vietnam in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference.

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Yet Vietnam continues to take actions contrary to its own self interests by jailing political antagonists for "crimes" such as posting democratically themed essays on the internet.

Two of these prisoners are Cong Thanh Do and Thuong N. "Cuc" Foshee, and there are others.

Cong Thanh Do used the internet to spread "democratic" messages, a crime in Vietnam.

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Mr. Do is from San Jose, California. His activities, taken for granted by all Americans, came to the attention of the government of Vietnam, a government that insists upon regulating all media and information, including the internet and email. The Washington Times web site, for example, is not available to readers in Vietnam. The Washington Times is too "seditionist."

While the United States cannot appropriately intervene and tell another nation that it must insist upon an American style of freedom of speech, American Congressmen and Senators can insist upon the release of Americans wrongly held in jails in Vietnam.

Thuong N. "Cuc" Foshee, according to her family, "was detained by the Vietnamese government and has been in a detention center in HCMC [Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon] ever since. She has not been charged with any crime, has been denied bail, has been denied a visit with an attorney, her prescription medication has been withheld and she has been denied adequate dental and medical care."

Mrs. Foshee has not been charged, though she has been held since September 8, 2005.

Mrs. Foshee was also known for her internet postings of democratically inspired documents from her home in California.

Both Mr. Do and Mrs. Foshee went to Vietnam to visit elderly relatives.

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When Vietnam's current government leaders ascended to power last June, we responded with a Washington Times commentary on America's Independence Day, July 4, 2006. "Recently, more enlightened thinking has made Vietnam an emerging economic force," we wrote, "the news of the new leadership gives great promise."

Now is the time for that new leadership to live up to its great promise.

Vietnam has released imprisoned persons guilty of similar "crimes." Earlier this month Vietnam released prominent dissident and pro-democracy activist Pham Hong Son. Son was originally sentenced to five years in prison. His crime? He translated articles from the U.S. State Department web site for an online journal. The articles were titled "What is democracy?"

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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