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CHR Calls Publicly for Dr. Nguyen Dan Que’s Release

(Below is a public letter that CHR Chairman Torsten Wiesel sent to the Vietnamese President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Justice Minister regarding Vietnamese medical doctor Nguyen Dan Que.)

August 2, 2004

His Excellency Tran Duc Luong
President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Office of the President
Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam


We are deeply disappointed that Vietnamese medical doctor Nguyen Dan Que did not receive a fair trial. We strongly believe that he was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison solely for having peacefully exercised his fundamental rights to freedom of opinion and expression, as promulgated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Vietnamese domestic law. We respectfully call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Dr. Que’s conviction for “abusing democratic rights to jeopardize the interests of the State, and the legitimate rights and interests of social organizations and citizens” is particularly incomprehensible in view of the fact that he was arrested for issuing a statement critical of Vietnamese government claims that it respects freedom of information. We would remind the Vietnamese government that in a democracy, all individuals, including Dr. Que, have the right to exercise free speech and should be able to do so without fear of repression or retribution.

Dr. Que’s trial, which, we understand, lasted only a few hours, reportedly failed to meet international fair trial standards in numerous substantive ways. For example, the trial was closed to the public. Our request to observe the trial was ignored. Diplomats and foreign journalists were prevented from entering the courtroom; and only a few members of Dr. Que’s immediate family were permitted to attend. We understand as well that Dr. Que was not only denied the right to legal counsel during his trial, as well as throughout his 16-month pre-trial detention, but he was prevented by the court from defending himself during the proceedings. He was, in fact, removed from the courtroom when—in response to an initial request by the court to make a brief statement—he told the judge that he was imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression and was being denied a fair and open trial. Dr. Que reportedly was forced to listen to the proceedings through a one-way speaker from a room adjacent to the courtroom.

Such treatment is particularly egregious because Dr. Que is a man who has courageously devoted his life to gaining health care for the poor and to peacefully advocating, at great personal sacrifice, democracy and respect for human rights in Vietnam. In recognition of his human rights work he has received numerous prestigious awards and has been nominated by members of the U.S. Congress for the Nobel Peace Prize. Most recently he has been named as the 2004 recipient of the Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award by the New York Academy of Sciences. Certainly Dr. Que deserves the right, as do all Vietnamese citizens, to exercise such fundamental rights as freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

We respectfully request that Dr. Que be promptly and unconditionally released from prison on both legal and humanitarian grounds, because he is incarcerated solely for peacefully expressing his opinion, has been held for more than 16 months in incommunicado detention, is elderly, and is in serious ill-health. We also, once again, request to visit Dr. Que and that he be given immediate access to a physician of his own choosing. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter of utmost concern to our committee and to many other members of the international scientific community.


Torsten Wiesel, M.D., FRS
(1981 Nobel Laureate
in Physiology or Medicine)

cc: His Excellency Le Luong Minh, Permanent Representative of Vietnam to the United Nations
His Excellency Nguyen Tam Chien, Ambassador of Vietnam to the United States
The Honorable Raymond F. Burghardt, Ambassador of the United States to Vietnam