Human Rights Watch denounced the arrest of geologist and writer Nguyen Thanh Giang on March 4, 1999 on the streets of Hanoi by police, reportedly for possessing anti-socialist propaganda. He was escorted to his home, where he picked up a number of personal belongings and was then taken away by police. Nguyen Thanh Giang's current whereabouts are not known, and charges against him have not been made public.
Nguyen Thanh Giang's arrest is an assault on freedom of expression, and he should be immediately and unconditionally released," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "The charge of 'possessing anti-socialist propaganda' means he could be convicted simply for possessing some of his own writings." She said that Vietnam had obligations to respect freedom of expression, belief and opinion under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its own Constitution.
Human Rights Watch has learned that Nguyen Thanh Giang may be sentenced for crimes against national security under the Criminal Code. It is possible that he will be charged under Article 82, "the crime of anti-socialist propaganda," which criminalizes the mere act of expressing a political opinion seen as injurious to the state or keeping or circulating material that does the same. If convicted under Article 82, Nguyen Thanh Giang could face three to twelve years in prison.
A respected geologist and outspoken intellectual, Giang, sixty-three, has openly advocated human rights and multiparty democracy since 1989. In recent years he has issued a number of public letters calling for peaceful reforms. In his writings he has criticized "red capitalists" within the Communist Party and denounced violations of human rights, while calling for "real democracy in which people from both the top and the bottom would equally benefit.His writings include "Human Rights, the Thousand Year Aspiration" (1996), "Election and the National Assembly" (1997), and "Let's Discuss the Vietnamese Workers Class" (1998).
Over the years Giang has been summoned for questioning by the police and criticized by his co-workers and neighbors. In addition, his family has been harassed, and restrictions have occasionally been placed on his travel. After attempting to run for National Assembly as an independent candidate in Hanoi in 1992, Giang came under more scrutiny from officials. In 1997 he was frequently interrogated by police and denounced as a traitor in meetings organized in the Hanoi neighborhood where he lives. In March 1998, police detained Giang for four days, charging that he was illegally distributing another dissident's poetry anthology. After he threatened to go on hunger strike he was released. In May 1998, Giang was summoned to the Cultural Police Headquarters, where he was advised to stop criticizing the party's polices.
Dissident writers in Vietnam face tight government control and repression in Vietnam. Despite amnesties in October and November 1998 of several well-known political prisoners, dozens of dissidents remain under surveillance or threat of arrest, or held in "administrative detainment" under Directive 31/CP, which authorizes detention without trial for up to two years by the Ministry of Interior.