At least 70 prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience were known to be held throughout the year. At least five people were arrested on political grounds, and 15 others were sentenced to prison terms of up to 15 years after unfair trials; all were believed to be prisoners of conscience. At least three people were sentenced to death and at least 10 executions were reported. Information came to light indicating that dozens of executions had regularly taken place in previous years. The ruling Vietnamese Communist Party continued to pursue its policy of economic liberalization and to seek closer links with the international community. The press and broadcast media remained under state control and restrictions on freedom of worship continued, in spite of government statements to the contrary. The repatriation to Viet Nam of thousands of Vietnamese asylum-seekers from countries in the region continued throughout the year; Amnesty International found no evidence of ill-treatment of these people on their return. In October the National Assembly passed the new Civil Code, a significant step in the establishment of a comprehensive legal framework in the country. The law includes articles on the relationship between the individual and the state and was due to come into effect in 1996. State President Le Duc Anh received many visits from foreign government representatives throughout the year, indicating a more open policy on the part of the Vietnamese Government. In April a parliamentary delegation from Australia visited Viet Nam for discussions with the authorities on a number of issues, including human rights, judicial procedures and prison conditions. The visit was significant because it had been postponed in 1994 when the Vietnamese authorities objected to comments by one of the proposed delegates about human rights concerns. Viet Nam became the seventh member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July. In the same month, diplomatic relations with the USA were restored, and in August US Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited Viet Nam, marking the normalization of relations between the two countries 20 years after the end of the Viet Nam war and the reunification of Viet Nam. In February the report of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which visited the country in 1994, was discussed at the 51st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The Working Group acknowledged a number of improvements made in recent years, but recommended relaxation of the limitations and restrictions on the rights to freedom of speech, opinion, assembly, association, belief and religion. It also suggested that prisoners still detained for their activities prior to 1975 be released as part of Viet Nam's commemoration of reunification. The Vietnamese Government issued a strong statement denouncing media reporting of the Commission's discussions, stating that "as a sovereign country, there is no reason for Viet Nam to allow a delegation…to investigate the so-called human rights situation…[which] would constitute…interference in its internal affairs." At least 70 prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience arrested in previous years were known to be detained throughout the year, although the true figure may have been higher. Dr Nguyen Dan Que, a medical doctor and member of Amnesty International who was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in 1991, remained in detention (see Amnesty International Reports 1991 and 1992). He suffered from very poor health, including peptic ulcers and kidney stones. He continued to be held in virtual solitary confinement and was allowed only one short visit per month from his family. Nguyen Van Thuan, a poet and writer, was detained in hospital in Ho Chi Minh City throughout the year after suffering a serious stroke in 1994. He had been arrested in 1990 and sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for his involvement in two political groups – the High Tide of Humanism Movement and the Freedom Forum – both peaceful movements advocating political change (see Amnesty International Report 1992). Doan Thanh Liem, a lawyer sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment in 1992 (see Amnesty International Reports 1993 and 1994) was also in poor health during the year and apparently in need of urgent medical treatment. Other prisoners of conscience included at least seven Catholic priests of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix, most of them serving long sentences after their arrest in 1987 and conviction on charges of "sowing disunity between the people and the government" (see Amnesty International Report 1995). The Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Viet Nam (UBCV), Thich Huyen Quang, was moved in January to a remote area of Quang Ngai province where he was detained in isolation. He had been arrested at the end of December 1994 after spending 10 years under house arrest (see previous Amnesty International Reports). The government initially denied that Thich Huyen Quang had been detained, but in a statement released on 25 January the Foreign Ministry said he had been moved "because he often disturbed the monks at his pagoda and local people". In August a statement released by the government indicated that Thich Huyen Quang was likely to face trial along with Thich Long Tri, the third most senior monk in the UBCV, who had been arrested in October 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995). However, a later statement contradicted this, and neither had been tried by the end of the year. Both monks were believed to be prisoners of conscience. At least five people were arrested for peaceful religious or political activities during the year. Thich Quang Do, Secretary General and second most senior official of the UBCV, was arrested in January at Thanh Minh pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City where he had been living after spending more than 10 years under house arrest. In a statement made after his arrest, the government announced that Thich Quang Do would stand trial for "provoking trouble contrary to Vietnamese law" and that he would be tried as "a Vietnamese delinquent and not as a Buddhist". In August Thich Quang Do and five other UBCV followers, including three monks, were brought to trial and convicted of "undermining the policy of unity". The trial took place in camera and lasted less than two days. Thich Quang Do was sentenced to five years' imprisonment after apparently refusing to ask for leniency. Fellow UBCV monks Thich Khong Than, Thich Nhat Ban and Thich Tri Luc, who had all been arrested in November 1994, were sentenced to between two and a half and five years' imprisonment. Nhat Thuong, a lay follower of the UBCV, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, while Dong Ngoc received a suspended sentence after requesting leniency. All five men were believed to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their religious activities with the UBCV. The sentences passed on four of them who lodged appeals were later upheld. During the trial, monks in Ho Chi Minh City came under increased surveillance by the security forces and a small number were arrested for short periods. In June, two former members of the Vietnamese Communist Party were arrested for expressing criticism of the Party and government policies. Do Trung Hieu and Hoang Minh Chinh, aged 76, who had both been imprisoned in previous years, were detained because of their writings calling on the Vietnamese Government to respect human rights and freedom of expression. Do Trung Hieu had also written an article criticizing government policy towards the UBCV. In November the two men were convicted of "abusing democratic liberties and violating the interests of state and social organizations" after an unfair trial. Do Trung Hieu was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment and Hoang Minh Chinh, who was in very poor health, received a 12-month sentence. Both were prisoners of conscience. Two dissidents were arrested in December; both were believed to be prisoners of conscience. Nguyen Xuan Tu (better known as Ha Si Phu), a well-known scientist and writer, was detained, apparently in connection with recent writings calling for political change and interviews given to a US radio station. Le Hong Ha, a former high-ranking member of the Communist Party and Chief of Cabinet of the Interior Ministry, had been expelled from the Communist Party in June at the request of President Le Duc Anh. No official charges had been laid against them by the end of the year. Nine men, all of whom were believed to be prisoners of conscience, were convicted after an unfair trial. They were sentenced in August to prison terms ranging from four to 15 years for their involvement in the Movement to Unite the People and Build Democracy, a non-violent political group which advocates political change. The nine had been arrested and detained in November 1993 for attempting to organize a conference on democracy and economic development in Ho Chi Minh City. Most had been involved in anti-communist movements before the reunification of Viet Nam in 1975 and had spent periods in "re-education" camps after 1975. The leader of the group, Nguyen Dinh Huy, had previously been imprisoned for 17 years for his alleged "counter-revolutionary" political beliefs. The trial, which took place in Ho Chi Minh City, lasted for two days. The nine appeared not to have had access to their assigned defence counsel during the course of the trial. Under existing laws and practice, defence counsel are not permitted to cross-examine witnesses or challenge statements made by the prosecution in such trials. All nine defendants were found guilty of "acting to overthrow the people's government". Nguyen Dinh Huy was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, Pham Tuong to 14 years, Bui Kim Dinh to 12 years, Nguyen Ngoc Tan and Dong Tuy to 11 years, Nguyen Van Bien to eight years and Nguyen Van Chau to four years. Nguyen Tan Tri and Tran Quang Liem, both US citizens, received prison sentences of seven and four years respectively. Both were deported to the USA in November. In April the government announced an amnesty for thousands of prisoners to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the reunification of Viet Nam. The authorities did not publish the names of those released, but it is believed that some political prisoners may have been among them. In a statement issued before a second amnesty in September, in which no political prisoners or prisoners of conscience appeared to have been released, the government denied that any political prisoners were held in Viet Nam. At least three people were sentenced to death during the year and 10 executions were reported. This ended a long-standing practice by the Vietnamese authorities of not reporting executions. New information which came to light during the year suggested that executions had regularly taken place in previous years and that the decision to announce these executions was part of a government policy designed to deter crime. The Australian parliamentary delegation which visited Viet Nam in April reported that a Supreme Court official had informed them that about 100 people had been sentenced to death during 1994 and that 90 of them had been executed. During the year Amnesty International called for the immediate and unconditional release of Buddhist prisoners of conscience, including Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do. In response, the government issued a statement denying that Buddhists had been arrested and asserting Viet Nam's respect for freedom of belief. The organization appealed for the unconditional release of Dr Nguyen Dan Que and asked that he be given immediate access to appropriate medical treatment. Amnesty International also called for the release of the nine prisoners of conscience sentenced during the year for their involvement in the Movement to Unite the People and Build Democracy. The organization expressed regret at the use of the death penalty by the Vietnamese authorities. An Amnesty International delegate visited Viet Nam in March and met with representatives of various organizations with an interest in human rights.

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