ucanews.com reporter, HanoiUpdated: January 08, 2013 10:15 PM GMT
Vietnamese intellectuals have launched a petition asking the government to protect basic human rights, to annul an article curbing free speech, and to release jailed activists.
“We appeal to the government and people to exercise human rights which are stipulated in the constitution and international conventions Vietnam ratifies,” the group said in its appeal launched on December 25.
As of Friday, the appeal had been signed by more than 950 people. Among the signatories are Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of Vinh, president of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, Father John Baptist Huynh Cong Minh, vicar general of Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese, and many other priests.
The public is invited to join in asking the National Assembly to repeal Article 88, which criminalizes anti-state propaganda.
“Many citizens who criticize the government, its policies or state apparatus are prosecuted and imprisoned,” the petition says.
Last week, the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the convictions of Nguyen Van Hai, alias Dieu Cay, and former policewoman Ta Phong Tan, confirming their jail terms of 12 and 10 years respectively.
A third blogger, Phan Thanh Hai, who pleaded guilty at his trial in September, saw his four-year prison term reduced in November by one year.
The convictions relate to political articles the bloggers posted on the banned website "Free Journalists Club" as well as on their own blogs, criticizing corruption, injustice and Vietnam's foreign policy.
Lawyer Le Quoc Quan, a prominent dissident blogger, was detained by Vietnamese police while dropping off his daughter at school last week. He was was charged with tax evasion, but critics say the arrest was politically motivated.
The petition also demands the government annul a decree banning people from holding demonstrations, which petitioners say is against people’s civil and political rights, urging the government to “release all prisoners who publicly express their political views in peaceful ways.”
On January 1, Senior Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh, Vice Minister of Defense, told local newspapers that “demonstrations cause instability.”
Hundreds of people took to the streets in December to protest China’s maritime invasion on the South China Sea, and many were detained.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 172 out of 179 countries in its 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index. It also called the authoritarian state an "enemy of the internet" because of systematic use of cyber-censorship.