Eight Vietnamese writers, including one in prison and another arrested over the weekend, have been awarded the Hellman/Hammett prize for courage in face of political persecution, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday February 6.
Vietnam’s communist government, which bans political opposition, condemned the award as “totally wrong” and reiterated that the country has no political prisoners.
Among the recipients of the prize are Nguyen Vu Binh, 38, who is serving an eight-year sentence for espionage over his contacts with overseas pro-democracy groups, and Nguyen Van Dai, 38, a human-rights lawyer who was arrested and questioned by police over the weekend before being released.
The other six Vietnamese recipients are Do Nam Hai, 48, a political organiser, writer Nguyen Chinh Kiet, 54, founder of the Free Journalists Association, novelist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, activist Nguyen Khac Toan, 51, who was released from prison this year, former Communist Party historian Pham Que Duong, 75, and Le Chi Quang, 36, another human rights lawyer who has spent three-years in prison.
“This is an especially important year to recognise dissident writers in Vietnam,” said Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, which administers the annual award.
“Vietnam’s emerging democracy movement has become bolder, more outspoken and public, making activists more vulnerable to government reprisals. The Hellman/Hammett awards give writers international attention, and some protection,” she said.
However, the family of at least one of the recipients had mixed feelings about the news. “Deep in my heart, I am proud, but very worried,” said Vu Thi Ngan, the wife of Nguyen Vu Binh, when reached by telephone Tuesday February 6.
It was the second time that Binh, a former writer for a Communist Party magazine, has received the award since he began writing articles criticial of the government.
He was awarded his first Hellman/Hammett in 2002, the same year he was arrested and charged with spying.
“In 2002, my husband received the same award, and we had so many troubles from local government who called upon us and told us that the organisation was a ‘reactionary’ one,” Ngan said.
“Since my husband is currently in prison, any award or anything that annoys the government, makes me hesitant,” she said. “I don’t know what the government’s reaction to my husband at the announcement of this news will be.
Meanwhile, Pham Que Duong said that he’s happy to receive the honour.
“Even without any award, I am still fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights in Vietnam,” Duong said. “It is encouraging to us to receive an international award.”
In its press release Tuesday February 6, Human Rights Watch condemned the Vietnamese government for its increasing crackdown and harassment on dissidents.
Vietnamese government spokesman Le Dung on Tuesday February 6 condemned the report and Human Rights Watch. “This organisation often has distorted information about Vietnam,” Dung said.
“In Vietnam, no one is arrested for expressing opinions,” Dung said. “There is no political repression and only those violating the laws are dealt with in accordance with the laws and regulation of Vietnam.”