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Award-winning publisher arrested

Bui Chat (right), receiving IPA's Freedom to Publish Prize in Buenos Aires, April 2011
Bui Chat (right), receiving IPA's Freedom to Publish Prize in Buenos Aires, April 2011

Vietnamese underground publisher Bui Chat was in Buenos Aires last week to pick up an International Press Association (IPA) award for his "courage in upholding the freedom to publish." When he returned home, the Vietnamese authorities celebrated his prize by confiscating it, searching his home and arresting him, report IPA and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The leader of Giay Vun Publishing House, Bui Chat has since been released but remains under surveillance and subject to more interrogation by the Vietnamese authorities. He also faces up to a year in detention for "investigation purposes" before an official charge is laid, says IPA.

Meanwhile, Giay Vun's co-founder, poet Ly Doi, was also ordered to report for interrogation. According to IPA, both men were evicted from their rented apartment. The landlord is reported to have said that he was under pressure by the local security police to kick them out.

"The Vietnamese authorities gave no reason for Chat's arrest but it seems directly linked to the prize he received," RSF said. "Although Vietnam claims to have made significant progress on human rights, journalists, netizens and now publishers continue to be jailed if they dare to defy the government by voicing or relaying dissident views."

IPA has been liaising with the relevant authorities to facilitate Bui Chat's definite and permanent release and is urging other governments and rights advocates to join them.

IPA called Chat "a courageous underground publisher" who is devoted to publishing the works of "pavement poets" and helped to create an independent publishing movement.

"Under extremely difficult conditions, the Giay Vun Publishing House has initiated a new movement of free thinkers, free writers, free artists who refuse to conform to the state rules of creation," said Bjorn Smith-Simonsen, who chairs IPA's Freedom to Publish Committee."It has helped tear down the barriers of censorship."

Human Rights Watch says there has been "a steady stream" of political trials and arrests of dozens of democracy activists, independent writers, online critics and members of unsanctioned religious groups. More than 400 people are currently imprisoned in Vietnam for the exercise of fundamental rights.

And according to RSF, Vietnam is the world's second biggest jailer of cyber dissidents after China - with 17 currently being held. Just last week democracy activist and online commentator Vi Duc Hoi was given a five-year prison sentence for posting calls for democratic reforms on the Internet.

On accepting the award in Buenos Aires, Bui Chat said he hoped it would further boost the independent publishing movement and civil society in Vietnam.

"Books have the power to make the world free: freedom for those who publish books, for those who read books, and for those who discuss what books bring to them," he noted.

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