Cablegate: Vietnam Democracy Activists Discuss Human Rights

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) HCMC 1011; B) HCMC 1002

1. (SBU) Summary: Recently-released dissident, Tran Van Khue, and
Ms. Tam Van, the wife of jailed activist Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, told
us that Vietnam remains far from meeting international human
rights standards, particularly in areas such as freedom of
association and expression. Despite the injustices done to them
and their families, they recognize that human rights conditions in
Vietnam continue to improve incrementally. Khue and Mrs. Que
credit the USG's broad engagement with Vietnam as well as
Vietnam's increasing participation in rules-based regimes such as
the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) and WTO for human rights-
related improvements. They argue that this process of engagement
helps bind the hands of Communist Party hardliners and creates new
openings for greater personal freedom. They plan to continue
their human rights activities, although in the near term Mrs. Que
will focus on securing amnesty for her husband, who has 12 months
remaining on his 30-month prison term. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On August 16 and 17, we met separately with dissident
Tran Van Khue and with Ms. Tam Van, the wife of still-jailed human
rights activist Nguyen Dan Que to discuss their families'
situations and plans for the future, and to seek their views on
the state of play on human rights issues in Vietnam.


3. (SBU) Khue, released July 31 after 19 months in prison (ref a),
said that he planned to continue to push for democratic reform and
government transparency. Describing his trial, Khue said it was a
foreordained farce. Despite his many written and oral requests,
Khue alleged he was denied legal representation. (Family members
previously told us that Khue chose to defend himself at his July 9
trial.) A family appeal to the President of the HCMC Bar
Association also went unanswered. (Separately, the Bar President
denied to us that he had ever received a request from Khue.)

4. (SBU) At the trial, Khue said that he told the presiding judge
that it was he who should be prosecutor based on the vast number
of documents he had amassed detailing corruption and malfeasance
within the Communist Party. Khue said that he caught a glimmer of
sympathy from the presiding judge, the Deputy Chief of HCMC's
criminal court (a party member, as are almost all judges and
prosecutors), who then proceeded to pronounce him guilty of
"distorting the historic truth" and "abusing democracy and freedom
to undermine national interests."

5. (SBU) A former Communist Party member, Khue said that he
continues to have links to the party faithful -- for example, he
plans to travel to Hanoi shortly to attend the 93rd birthday
celebrations of retired General and national hero Vo Nguyen Giap.
He credits his relatively mild sentence -- particularly in
comparison to Dr. Que who was given an additional 11 months jail
time -- to his Communist pedigree. He suspects sympathizers
within the Communist Party intervened to blunt the efforts of
hardliners to hand him a harsher sentence.

6. (SBU) Khue said that despite his own personal ordeal, his
family has escaped largely unscathed, again because of his Party
connections. His two sons continue to work for two state-owned
enterprises, and an ad-agency that leases space in the family
house operates unimpeded. A daughter who worked with him on
publishing his anti-corruption manifestoes was fired from a
military-owned shipbuilding company in HCMC, but Khue is hopeful
that she will be able to find employment in another state-owned

Dr. Que

7. (SBU) Ms. Tam Van, wife of imprisoned human rights and
democracy activist Nguyen Dan Que, told us that Dr. Que had
decided not to appeal his 30-month jail sentence as an appeal
would only confer legitimacy to an illegitimate process. She has
not yet been able to see her husband in prison since the July 29
trial (ref b). She understands, however, that her husband is
being treated fairly by prison authorities: he has a relatively
large cell (16 square meters), and she has been allowed to deliver
money and medicine to the prison two times a month.

8. (SBU) Mrs. Que indicated that the family has been in informal
contact with the authorities regarding a possible amnesty for her
husband. She has not yet submitted a formal request; she is
counting on the authorities to notify her when the time is ripe
for such a petition, perhaps, she speculated, in time for a
release during the Vietnamese "Tet" holiday in early 2005.

9. (SBU) Mrs. Que said that, in contrast to Khue, her family
continues to suffer from systematic harassment. Cell phones are
bugged, landline phones are cut and family members and friends
routinely shadowed and interviewed.

Half empty or half full?

10. (SBU) Both Khue and Mrs. Que said that, although much remains
to be done, Vietnam has made progress on some human rights issues.
While appreciative of international concern for the plight of
dissidents and pressure in their behalf, in their view progress
was more a byproduct of the GVN's deepening engagement with the
U.S. and the international community and Vietnam's participation
in rules-based regimes such as the Bilateral Trade Agreement. In
this context, they view Vietnam's early membership in the WTO as
desirable. Khue added that there are honest and well-meaning
members of the Communist Party and many are quietly sympathetic to
his anti-corruption and reform message. His overall impression is
that hardliners are slowly having their grip on power loosened.


11. (SBU) Our sense is that Khue's cautious optimism is on target
-- at least as far as HCMC is concerned. In our discussions with
party members and affiliates we find a broad recognition -- albeit
with different levels of enthusiasm -- that the party orthodoxy is
being pushed to adapt and respond to a more discerning domestic
constituency as well as to the demands of Vietnam's international
integration. Interestingly, even some dissidents agree. End


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