Cablegate: Codel Hoyer Meeting with Family Members of Dissidents

DE RUEHHM #0105/01 0240657
P 240657Z JAN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: HCMC 0009

HO CHI MIN 00000105 001.2 OF 003

1. (SBU) HCMC Bar Association lawyers and family members of
imprisoned dissidents relayed stories of courage and conviction
during their January 4 meeting with Representative Hoyer and
members of his delegation. Speaking eloquently about the need
for greater legal reform in Vietnam, the lawyers called on the
USG to encourage the GVN to guarantee in law the basic rights
enshrined in Vietnam's Constitution and to do more to educate
the public about their legal rights. Though they came with
diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, the family members shared
one common desire - to see their family members released soon.
End summary.

Lawyers Speak Out
2. (SBU) HCMC Bar Association lawyer Le Cong Dinh welcomed the
delegation and the family members, noting the fact they were
able to meet freely was a sign of progress considering that in
April 2007 Representative Loretta Sanchez was prevented from
meeting the wives of imprisoned dissidents in Hanoi. Mr. Dinh
noted that the lawyers not only defend human rights activists
but are also activists themselves, having written many articles
in the foreign press advocating for greater legal reform in
Vietnam. Dinh said in the fight for democracy, America's support
remains very important. Lawyer Dang Dzung agreed that there had
been progress but added that much remained to be done. He noted,
for example, that while domestic media outlets all reported
Representative Hoyer's favorable comments on Vietnam's rapid
economic growth,they skipped a key part of his statement later
quoted by Radio Free Asia--that "economic development must go
hand in hand with the expansion of human rights." The lawyers
believe one way to encourage progress on human rights is by
encouraging the GVN to guarantee the basic rights enshrined in
Vietnam's own Constitution.

3. (SBU) Mr. Dzung stated that Chapter Five (Fundamental Rights
and Duties of the Citizen) of the Vietnamese Constitution
affirms all of the same rights upheld in the U.S. Constitution,
including Article 69, which states that Vietnamese citizens
"shall enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the
press, the right to be informed, and the right to assemble, form
associations and hold demonstrations in accordance with the
provisions of the law." He added that while the Constitution
upholds these rights, to date, there are no legal provisions
that protect these rights. Dzung said in Vietnam, there is a
popular government slogan -- "Live and work in accordance with
the law," adding that human rights activists would like to see
this changed to "Live and work in accordance with the law and
the Constitution." Noting that the majority of dissidents are
prosecuted under Vietnam's national security provisions, Dzung
also said that the war has long been over, and it is time
Vietnam focused on creating laws that are in line with its
Constitution. Mr. Dzung ended by noting while the GVN is willing
to talk to foreign governments about human rights, they have not
yet begun that conversation with their domestic critics.

Advancing Legal Reform
4. (SBU) Turning to the situation of the country's dissidents,
Lawyer Le Cong Dinh noted Vietnamese officials often say "There
are no religious or political prisoners in Vietnam, only
lawbreakers." In addition to protecting the rights enshrined in
Vietnam's constitution, the lawyers said more needs to be done
to improve the country's legal system. According to the 1985
Penal Code, lawyers are allowed to get involved in their
clients' cases right from the investigation phase (i.e,
discovery, or the pre-trial phase of prosecution), but in
reality, lawyers have been barred from doing so since the code's
creation. Official statistics also show that only 20 percent of
defendants have legal representation. The lawyers said educating
the public about the legal system was one way to gather support
for change. Ambassador Michalak agreed, noting he would be
discussing the possibility of setting up a dialogue between
Vietnamese lawyers and the Ministry of Justice on legal reform
issues. In addition, the Ambassador said the U.S. Mission was
researching ways to get more American legal guides translated
into Vietnamese, per Mr. Dzung's suggestion (reftel). The
Ambassador agreed that translating easy-to-use American legal
texts would help build a public consensus for change as well as
introduce American legal concepts to a wider Vietnamese audience.

Family Members Share Their Stories
5. (SBU) Mr. Nguyen Cong Hoang, the nephew of imprisoned
Catholic priest and activist Father Nguyen Ly, said "it is a
terrible time for dissidents in Vietnam." Hoang and other
family members were prevented from attending Father Ly's March

HO CHI MIN 00000105 002.2 OF 003

2007 trial, where Ly was gagged by police after he shouted "down
with Communism" in the courtroom. Since then, Hoang said he and
his mother have been under constant surveillance by authorities,
a comment echoed by other family members. Most recently, Hoang
said local authorities questioned him about his meeting with the
US Committee on International Religious Freedom during their
October 2007 visit to Vietnam.

6. (SBU) Father Ly's sister Nguyen Thi Hieu said they visit him
in prison every two months, where he is held apart from other
prisoners and only allowed to read Phap Luat newspaper (the
official paper of the Ministry of Justice). He is not allowed to
say Mass, keep a bible or keep a pen. Though he is allowed to
write a letter to his family once a month, Ms. Hieu said they
have never received them. Ms. Hieu said Father Ly's activism
stems from his deep religious beliefs, which he feels includes
the promotion of justice, fairness and human rights. She said
what Father Ly did in his capacity as a priest was in keeping
with these principles. Ms. Hieu also feels religious freedom is
not a reality in Vietnam, "despite what the Vietnamese
government says."

7. (SBU) Le Nguyen Thanh, the brother of People's Democratic
Party activist Le Nguyen Sang, said the Vietnamese media accused
his brother of being a terrorist when he was arrested, but these
charges are untrue. After his brother's arrest, Mr. Thanh
refuted those claims in an interview with Radio Free Asia and
said Dr. Sang advocated for free speech, free press, an end to
police abuses and the expansion of human rights. Thanh noted
many people in Vietnam, including lawyers, doctors and
businessmen, are jailed or put under surveillance for saying the
same things his brother did.

8. (SBU) While two family members declined to speak at the
meeting, the rest called on the USG to do more to get their
relatives released. Father Ly's sister said he has missed the
funerals of both their parents during his time in prison (Note:
Ly was jailed three times previously and has spent almost 15
years of his life incarcerated. End note). Ms. Le Ngoc Nghia,
the mother of dissident Nguyen Bac Truyen, said "I'm 70 years
old and I visit my son once a month to bring him basic
necessities. I just wish my son could return home." Pham Ba
Dung, the brother of dissident Pham Ba Hai said, "Recently, I've
seen many good changes in Vietnam. I'm a businessman and my
business is doing well. I export 90 percent of my products to
the United States. I believe that each person should be allowed
to have a different point of view, but I personally do not want
to get involved in politics. I do wish, however, that my brother
could be released and reunited with the family soon. "

9. (SBU) Representative Hoyer thanked the family members for
having the courage to meet and share their stories. He also
applauded the lawyers for their advocacy efforts. Rep. Hoyer
affirmed the USG's support for the release of all prisoners of
conscience and the need to expand the human rights dialogue with
Vietnam to include more discussion of Constitutional and legal
reform issues. He encouraged the family members to stay in touch
with the Consulate and report any instances of official
harassment they might experience after the meeting, noting he
would relay any such incidents directly to the President. (Note:
Post has been in touch with the family members since Rep.
Hoyer's visit and none have reported increased harassment as a
result of the meeting. End note.)

The Participants
10. The USG delegation:
Head of Delegation Rep. Steny Hoyer
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz
Rep. Ray Lahood
Rep. Madeline Bordallo
Rep. Bob Etheridge
Ambassador Michalak
Consul General Fairfax
Political Officer Katia Bennett

The HCMC Bar Association:
Mr. Bui Quang Nghiem, Vice President. Nghiem, a member of the
Communist Party, was co-counsel for the appeals trial of
dissident lawyers Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai. He also
represented PDP dissidents in Ho Chi Minh City.

Mr. Le Cong Dinh, Vice President. A U.S.-educated lawyer, Dinh
was co-counsel for Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai. Dinh is
also a prominent corporate lawyer whose former clientele
includes Exxon Mobil, Aventis, and Boeing. Dinh's article
challenging the Prime Minister to allow private media outlets in
Vietnam appeared on BBC's Vietnamese news service.

HO CHI MIN 00000105 003.2 OF 003

Mr. Dang Dzung, Member. Co-counsel for Nhan and Dai, as well as
jailed PDP activist Le Nguyen Sang. He was slated to represent
detained American and Viet Tan activist Do Thanh Cong in August
2006 before his release. Dzung, a former Tuoi Tre (Youth)
journalist, has published over 20 articles for the BBC's
Vietnamese news service on democracy and other political issues.

Dissident Family Members:
Mr. Le Nguyen Thanh, younger brother of Le Nguyen Sang and Ms.
Le Ngoc Nghia, mother Nguyen Bac Truyen. Mr. Sang and Mr. Truyen
are members of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), an outlawed
political group that advocates for democracy and multi-party
elections in Vietnam. Sang and Truyen were sentenced to three
and four years in prison, respectively, on May 5, 2007 for
propagandizing against the government. Their sentences were
reduced by one year in August 2007.

Ms. Pham Thi Loc, wife Tran Quoc Hien. Mr. Hien is the spokesman
for the United Workers Farm Organization (UWFO), a group that
calls for the protection of workers' and farmers' rights and
expresses strong support for human rights in general. Hien was
sentenced to five years in prison on May 15, 2007 for creating
public disorder and propagandizing against the government.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Hieu and Mr. Nguyen Cong Hoang, sister and nephew
of Father Nguyen Van Ly. Father Ly is one of the leaders of
Bloc 8406, an umbrella group for democracy activists that
supports changing the Constitution to create a multi-party
government with free elections for the National Assembly and
protection of civil liberties. Father Ly was sentenced to eight
years in prison on March 30, 2007 for propagandizing against the

Ms. Nguyen Thi Trang, wife of Nguyen Ngoc Quang, Ms. Bach Yen,
wife of Vu Hoang Hai, Mr. Pham Ba Bach and Mr. Le Phuc Hai,
younger brother and cousin of Pham Ba Hai. Mr. Quang, Hai and
Hai are members of the Bach Dang group, which is affiliated with
Bloc 8406. All three were arrested in September 2006 for
propagandizing against the government and creating public
disorder. They were scheduled to be tried on December 27, 2007.
The trial has now been postponed indefinitely.

© Scoop Media

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