Update (May 9, 2001): Human Rights Watch learned today that Vu Cao Quan was released on May 4 after ten days in detention. According to Human Rights Watch sources, a group of Vu's friends met with Vu at his home in Haiphong on May 7 and have confirmed his release. Human Rights Watch welcomes the news of Vu's release, but remains concerned about continuing reports of surveillance and harassment of dissidents in Vietnam.
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Human Rights Watch today expressed concern about the arrest of Vietnamese dissident Vu Cao Quan on April 24, and the possibility of arrest of other democracy activists in Vietnam, including prominent former political prisoner Hoang Minh Chinh.

"The recent party congress in Hanoi raised some hopes about economic reform. But when it comes to political reform, Vietnam is drawing a line," said Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "We are concerned that individuals are being targeted merely because they are meeting together with other dissidents."

Human Rights Watch called on Vietnam's international donors to raise concerns about continuing arrests of dissidents and the need for greater openness when donors meet in Hanoi next month. On June 14-15, the World Bank will convene an interim donor meeting in Vietnam to evaluate progress on economic and social reforms.

Human Rights Watch has learned that Vu Cao Quan, 68, was arrested at 5 p.m. April 24 on his way back to his home in Hai Phong after meeting individually in Hanoi on April 22 with other democracy activists -- including well-known dissidents Nguyen Thanh Giang, Tran Do, Pham Que Duong, and Hoang Minh Chinh.

Vu Cao Quan apparently did not receive a written arrest warrant or written specification of the charges against him. His family has been told that he has been arrested for writing and possessing anti-socialist documents.

Before his arrest, police searched Vu's home in Hai Phong and confiscated numerous documents and books. In February, Vu was summoned to police headquarters in Hai Phong several times after he organized a meeting in Hai Phong of people interested in democracy, and invited Tran Do and Nguyen Thanh Giang to attend as speakers.

Vu's wife was informed of the arrest at 11 p.m. on April 24, when police asked her to come to Hai Phong police headquarters to persuade her husband to eat because he went on hunger strike to protest his arrest. This is the last time she saw him; his current whereabouts are unknown. Vu Cao Quan is in poor health, and was hospitalized after a stroke one month ago.

Two days after Vu Cao Quan's arrest, on April 26, a squad of policemen went to the home of another prominent dissident, Hoang Minh Chinh, 81, in Hanoi and insisted that he go with them to police headquarters. Hoang Minh Chinh refused and barricaded himself in his house. He has not left his home since because of fear of arrest. Prior to this, Hoang Minh Chinh had been summoned several times to Hanoi police headquarters for "working sessions" to answer questions, but had refused to go.

In January 1999, Vu Cao Quan resigned from the Vietnamese Communist Party together with Col. Pham Que Duong to protest the expulsion of retired Gen. Tran Do, who had been ousted from the party for his outspoken and critical views. Shortly afterwards, Vu was expelled from the Army Veterans Association. Since 1990, Vu has written a number of articles in which he advocated Western-style democracy for Vietnam, some of which circulated informally among dissidents in Vietnam or published abroad.

Former high-ranking Party cadre Hoang Minh Chinh was director of the Marxist-Leninist Institute until 1967, when he was imprisoned for five years for criticizing Party policy. Since then he has been imprisoned and put under house arrest numerous times for his outspoken views.