NGO rejects government smear campaign

Greeted at Los Angeles by well wishers and fellow blogger Dieu Cay

VOICE advocates for the release of political prisoners, such as the bloggers Ta Phong Tan and Dieu Cay, who were sent into exile in the US.

The overseas Vietnamese activist group, VOICE, has responded to allegations from the government that it has links with Viet Tan, the Vietnam Reform party, based in the United States.

VOICE, which advocates for Vietnamese refugees and sponsors training for civil society activists in Vietnam, said that it had never had any relationship with any political party, including Viet Tan.

The organisation, one of a number of independent groups that founded  Vietnam Right Now, has become concerned that the Vietnamese government could be looking for an excuse to crack down on its associates in Vietnam by accusing them of subversion.

The statement follows a series of allegations and insinuations in the Vietnamese state media that the organisation and its directors are affiliated with Viet Tan.

The Vietnamese authorities accuse Viet Tan of being a terrorist organisation, despite its advocacy of peaceful change, and have imposed long prison terms on those suspected of membership.

Viet Tan grew out of the anti-Communist exile groups that settled in the United States after the fall of Saigon in 1975. In 2004, it re-formed under its current name and began to advocate peaceful change, dissociating itself from any previous association with violent resistance.

“No member of the board of VOICE today, including its executive director, Trinh Hoi, is a member of  Viet Tan or any other Vietnamese political party,” said the statement.

“VOICE is a non-governmental, non-profit and fully independent organisation, registered in the State of California,” it said. The registration forbids any participation in partisan politics.

Voice said that the current Viet Tan spokesman, Hoang Tu Duy, had been a board member from 2007 until 2010, in his personal capacity, but this had not created any organisational link between the two groups.

VOICE began as an advocacy group for stateless Vietnamese refugees who had been left stranded in Southeast Asia after the boat people crisis of the 1970s and 80s.

It currently provides training and internships for civil society activists from Vietnam who are involved in wide range of fields; including the environment, human rights, free media and LGBT issues.

“We reaffirm our stance in favour of democracy for Vietnam with the effective participation of all people, including political parties, which we believe is a condition for the development of a strong and healthy civil society,” the statement concluded.