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From the December 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 12)

Vietnamese Journalist and Reform Advocate Runs Afoul of Authorities

Nguyen Vu Binh: Speaking Out

Rachel S. Taylor, World Press Review associate editor

Nguyen Vu Binh
Photo courtesy of the Democracy Club for Vietnam
Vietnamese journalist and democracy advocate Nguyen Vu Binh has learned the hard way that his country’s communist leadership is not yet ready for real reform.

Around 8 p.m. on Sept. 25, Binh, 34, received some unwelcome visitors at the home he shares with his wife and two small daughters in the country’s capital, Hanoi. But Binh might have imagined the security officials who came to his door would stop by. As a democracy advocate in a country still tightly controlled by a communist leadership, he has been on the government’s watch list for some time.

Still, this visit was worse than usual. After searching his home, the police took Binh away. As of this writing, the journalist has not been seen since. 

Binh’s crime remains a mystery, though many suspect it has something to do with an essay he recently wrote and distributed over the Internet. Titled “Some Thoughts on the China-Vietnam Border Agreement,” Binh’s piece criticized the Vietnamese government for conceding too much in a 1999 land deal it made with China. 

In September 2000, Binh, who spent more than eight years as an economics reporter for Tap Chi Cong San, the Vietnamese Communist Party’s official journal, stepped down from his position and, in a direct challenge to the state’s one-party system, petitioned to form a new Freedom and Democracy Party. Before long, the authorities were closely monitoring him. They cut his home phone line and brought him to the police station repeatedly (at one point taking him in three times in five days). They reportedly “advised” his friends not to meet him and companies not to hire him. 

But Binh was not deterred. Over the next two years, he helped found the Association to Fight Government Officials’ Corruption, published several essays on democracy, and signed a petition to Vietnam’s Parliament calling for reforms. In July, Binh submitted written testimony to the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus, in which he discussed the human-rights situation in Vietnam. Soon after he e-mailed his testimony to Washington, police took him in for questioning and later put him under house arrest.

With the publication of his essay on the China-Vietnam border agreement, it appears that the authorities thought Binh had gone too far. Since it remains dangerous to speak out against the government, it has been left primarily to democracy advocates and human-rights groups in the United States to campaign for Binh’s release. In the meantime, Binh’s family, friends, and community of fellow democracy advocates have been left to wait and to hope he will be allowed to come home soon. 

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