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(New York) - Vietnamese authorities should cease its campaign of attacks on 83-year-old democracy activist Hoang Minh Chinh, Human Rights Watch said today.

Vietnam's international donors should insist that the Vietnamese government cease its campaign against the elderly dissident when they meet Wednesday in Hanoi for their annual Consultative Group meeting, co-chaired by the World Bank and Vietnam's Minister of Planning and Investment.

Hoang is a former high-ranking Vietnamese Communist Party cadre who has become increasingly outspoken in defense of human rights. He and his wife have been physically attacked twice during the last two weeks by orchestrated mobs and vilified and called a "traitor" in the government-controlled media.

“The Vietnamese government should be more mature than to sanction attacks against an 83-year-old man whose only weapon is his words,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “What are they afraid of?”

In August, while in the United States for medical treatment for prostrate cancer, Hoang made several public statements criticizing Vietnam's poor human rights record and calling for democracy. He delivered a lecture at Harvard University and submitted a statement to the House International Relations Committee.

In October and November, Hoang was accused of committing "treason to the nation" in more than thirty articles in the Vietnamese state press, some of which were read out over public address systems. In response, Hoang filed a libel suit on October 31 against seven government newspapers.

Shortly after Hoang's return to Vietnam in mid-November, a police officer warned Hoang's family that he could not guarantee Hoang's security because many people were angry about his criticism of the government. The police did not protect those who “betrayed” the government, the officer said to the family.

Two days later, on November 21, a mob surrounded Hoang's daughter's home in Ho Chi Minh City, where he was temporarily staying to rest after his operation. One person threw a bucket of water mixed with a chemical solution, thought by the family to be a type of acid, over the fence, creating white smoke and fumes, burning the seat of a motorcycle, and causing members of his daughter's family to become ill.

On December 1, Hoang and his wife returned to their home in Hanoi. There they were met by another mob of close to 100 people. They surrounded Hoang and his wife, shouting that they were traitors. The couple was pelted with tomatoes and rotten eggs as they tried to get in the door. About 30 members of the mob entered the courtyard of the house, smashing a window. During the incident which lasted several hours, approximately 10 ward-level uniformed police officers reportedly stood by without intervening.

“This crude behavior is reminiscent of China during the Cultural Revolution, not a country that has signed onto the major human rights treaties and receives billions in aid every year from donors including the European Union and the United States,” said Adams. "It's time for Vietnam to accept that its citizens have the right to express their opinions."

Vietnam's bilateral and multilateral donors, who pledged a record U.S. $3.4 billion to Vietnam last year, are scheduled to make their annual pledges Wednesday.

Hoang Minh Chinh joined the Communist Party in 1940. He was director of the Marxist-Leninist Institute until 1967, when he was imprisoned after writing a 200-page document entitled "Dogmatism in Vietnam" that criticized the Vietnamese Communist Party.

He has been imprisoned several times, for a total of 12 years from 1967-1972, from 1981-1987, and again for one year in 1995. He has also been put under house arrest and surveillance numerous times. He has written public appeals to Vietnam's leaders pressing for greater freedom of expression, advocated the formation of an anti-corruption association, and bravely stood outside courthouses during the trials of fellow dissidents, talking to the media despite the presence of police and plainclothes security officers.

“The government wants us to be frightened or afraid but if we are frightened or afraid we just turn ourselves into speaking animals,” he told reporters during the trial of dissident Tran Dung Tien in 2003.

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