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Cablegate: State Media Spins Fictitious Accounts of Jan 20 Dissident

VZCZCXRO0905
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0037/01 0290249
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 290249Z JAN 10
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6277
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 4161
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 6520

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000037

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PINS PROP PREL VM
SUBJECT: STATE MEDIA SPINS FICTITIOUS ACCOUNTS OF JAN 20 DISSIDENT
TRIAL

REF: (A) HCMC 33 (NOTAL) (B) 09 HCMC 339 (NOTAL)

HO CHI MIN 00000037 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: News reports on the January 20 trial of four
democracy advocates (ref A) carried in Vietnam's tightly
controlled media -- particularly the more reliably vitriolic
papers connected to the armed forces and MPS -- clearly
demonstrated why the GVN banned foreign observers and media from
bringing recording devices, cell phones, and cameras into the
trial--it prevented observers from easily countering the GVN's
highly inaccurate accounts of the trial with the embarrassing
truth. The MPS-controlled "An Ninh The Gioi" (World Security)
newspaper provided the most egregious example of fraudulent
reporting, including a fabricated interview with defendant Tran
Huynh Duy Thuc on the courthouse steps. Significant untruths
also appeared in "Quan Doi Nhan Dan" (People's Soldier) and
other papers, as well as in the "stock" article published in
numerous mainstream dailies. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) In an article printed on January 23, "An Ninh The Gioi"
described an entirely fictitious interview with Tran Huynh Duy
Thuc which the reporter claimed to have taken as he entered the
courtroom. In reality, all four defendants were escorted by a
phalanx of police officers from a police van directly into the
court room; no one was able to approach, much less interview,
the defendants. Only select Party officials were allowed in the
courtroom itself. Reporters and diplomats were isolated in a
separate room with CCTV (which was subject to frequent periods
of "static" during testimony) and defendants' family members
were isolated in a second CCTV room (where the audio feed was
also censored). The fictitious interview was, not surprisingly,
very damning, depicting defendants as unable or unwilling to
respond to the reporter's insightful questions regarding their
nefarious deeds. In one instance, the reporter asks Thuc if he
had the background needed to be Economic Minister in a new
government formed after the overthrow of the regime. In
response, the reporter said "Thuc was silent." The "An Ninh The
Gioi" article ran a reasonably accurate rendition of Le Cong
Dinh's "non-confession" (in which he admitted to joining a party
other than the CPV and thus breaking Vietnamese law), but then
appended an additional sentence that Dinh never uttered -- "I
was pulled into plots to overthrow the State's administration."

3. (SBU) That article and several others also reported that the
trial was open to the public. It was not. A large crowd of
people gathered in front of the courthouse but the only persons
permitted to enter were family members, reporters and others
with ID badges issued before the trial. Among family members,
only immediate family members were given passes; others were
left standing in the rain. While some foreign observers were
allowed in, the numbers were strictly limited (only 2 EU
representatives, and one each from the USA, Canada, and
Australia). Representatives from independent groups such as
International Bar Association (IBA) were denied entry entirely.
The two IBA representatives also reported to foreign media that
they were detained and questioned by immigration officials after
being barred from entering the court.

4. (SBU) "An Ninh The Gioi" was more accurate when it reported
that diplomats, including the Danish and EU Ambassadors Lysholt
Hansen, EU Ambassador Sean Doyle, Canadian Cultural and
Political Counselor Robert Burley, U.S. Consul General Kenneth
Fairfax and Australian Deputy Principal Officer Chantelle
Woodford, were at the trial. It fell short of the full truth,
however, in two ways. First, the article implied that these
diplomats were part of a larger group rather than the entire
list of those permitted to attend. Numerous other Missions
attempted to send representatives but the requests were denied.
After receiving notice of the denial a Swedish diplomat
nonetheless spent two hours standing in the rain trying to
convince guards to let her in; she failed. Second, it claimed
that the diplomats were in the courtroom, when as noted
previously, they actually watched the proceedings via CCTV with
the censored audio feed.

5. (SBU) A surprisingly honest and fairly accurate rendition of
the heart of the indictment appeared in both Thanh Nien
(Youth)'s Vietnamese daily and English weekly editions, as well
as a few other papers. These papers noted that the accused were
convicted of attempting to "overthrow the state" by weakening
support for the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and encouraging
opposition to it, so that the CPV would be eliminated by 2020.

HO CHI MIN 00000037 002.2 OF 002


In other words, the activists were convicted of having engaged
in political speech that cast the current government's policies
in a critical light. Despite the headline-catching charges of
sedition and conspiracy leveled against them, they were not
accused of participating in an actual plot to actively subvert
the government or of planning or using violence.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: When it comes to reporting on "sensitive"
issues such as human rights cases and pro-democracy activists,
highly misleading reporting in Vietnam's state- and
party-controlled media is the norm. The style of the
fabrications in these articles was also employed in the
fictitious account published in mid-2009 of a meeting between
the Ambassador and pro-democracy activist Do Nam Hai (ref B),
with bits and pieces of truth interwoven with exaggerations,
out-of-context items and pure fantasy. The open question,
however, is whether this style of heavy-handed propaganda
remains effective in today's world of global Internet news. The
likely answer is: sometimes. Those interested, concerned and
brave enough to search for the truth can still find it. While
Internet censorship exists in Vietnam, it is neither
sophisticated nor pervasive; a simple Internet search readily
reveals multiple articles from foreign press with more accurate
accounts of the trial. For many others -- those with less
interest in politics, those worried about what security services
monitoring their web browsing habits (mandatory in every
Internet cafe) may find, and those whose political alignment
leads them to want to believe the GVN/CPV version of events --
articles such as the "An Ninh The Gioi" fabrication probably
play a major role in shaping opinions. End Comment.

7. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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