“Anti-state” Dieu Cay meets US President

US President Barack Obama on Friday held a talk with blogger Nguyen Van Hai (aka. Dieu Cay), who used to be considered “anti-state” and sentenced to almost 15 years of imprisonment by the police-dominated courts in Vietnam.

The meeting is particularly significant when it takes place before Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, pays his visit to the United States in May.

Photo by Susan Walsh/ AP

Photo by Susan Walsh/ AP

Some journalists who were victims of political repression in other countries also attended the meeting, which aimed to celebrate the Word Press Freedom Day on May 3.

In a statement on the 2012 World Press Freedom Day, President Obama said, “… We must not forget others like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam.”

Founder of the Vietnam Network of Free Journalists, Dieu Cay is one of the most famous prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. He was arrested in 2008 and given a two and a half year sentence of imprisonment for fake “tax fraud.” Shortly before he finished the prison terms, he was charged with a new crime, which was “propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code. Dieu Cay declined to admit guilt, saying his only aspiration was to fight corruption for Vietnam to become a better society. His bravery and the repression he suffered from made him the symbol of restricted media freedom in Vietnam.

Tremendous efforts, mostly from the Vietnamese oversea community, to advocate for Dieu Cay’s freedom made the Vietnamese government release him at last, and he was almost “expeled” to the United States last October.

The State Department on April 27 announced the launch of its “Free the Press” campaign and urged the Vietnamese communist government to release immediately blogger Ta Phong Tan, member of the Vietnam Network of Free Journalists, who is still being jailed.

The talk between the former Vietnamese prisoner of conscience and President Obama at the White House is a remarkable event, given the forthcoming visit by the VCP’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong to the United States.

So far, diplomatic formalities for the leader of the VCP remain a controversial topic. The communists insist that President Obama should give Nguyen Phu Trong a formal reception at the Oval Office as he does to heads of state.