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BosNewsLife (12/17/05) – Three young Internet users detained by Vietnamese security forces for visiting a chat room and website dedicated to religious freedom were still in jail Saturday, December 17, a day after the Paris-based press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders demanded their release.

In late October BosNewsLife was among the first international news organizations to report on the arrests in Ho Chi Min City of Truong Quoc Tuan and his two brothers, Truong Quoc Huy and Truong Quoc Nghia with his fiancee, Lisa Pham, a Vietnamese with US residency.

Truong Quoc Nghia was reportedly released later, but Reporters Without Borders said it is still concerned about the other three detainees.

“Reached by telephone Chau Thi Hoang, the mother of Truong Quoc Tuan and Truong Quoc Huy, confirmed that her two sons are still being held along with Lisa Pham, the fiancee of one of the brothers,” Reporters Without Borders added.

The group said the mother obtained an official document saying her sons and Pham were accused of violating article 19 of the criminal code by inciting the population to “overthrow the government.” Their friend and activist Anthony Nguyen of The International Movement for Vietnam ‘s Democracy and Human Rights, which hosts the chat room and website, denied the charges.

He told BosNewsLife that the “felony of attempting to conduct a coup d’etat,” is “just a false accuse the Vietnamese Communist authorities always use in their scheme to suffocate the people’s right to freedom of speech.”

Nguyen said “50 security forces” were involved in the October 19 raid at the Ho Chi Min City home of Truong Quoc Huy and that for “some unknown reason,” they also detained the two other brothers and the young woman.

He said the four had regularly visited a chat room his group hosts via Paltalk.com, which allows people to participate in discussions on a variety of subjects.

“Our visitors are from Vietnam and different countries who can voice their opinions either anti or pro Communism. Sometimes they just describe the hardships they have been through [or] the better lives they made for themselves in democratic countries,” Nguyen explained. The four apparently also visited the group’s separate website, tudongonluanvn.com.

“If these Internet users were arrested for taking part in an online discussion forum, we will do everything possible to obtain their release,” said Reporters Without Borders in a statement. ” Vietnam recently said it did not deserve to be on the list of Internet enemies which we published in November so we are waiting for it to show its commitment to free expression.”

One of the users of the religious rights chat room reportedly expressed concern to the group “about these young people who were kidnapped outright” by the police. “We think agents have infiltrated our forum to try to wreck it,” the Internet user was quoted as saying, apparently on condition of anonymity. “For example, someone is currently using a pseudonym very similar to mine in order to discredit me and say I am a Communist. These young Internet users may have been taken in by a police agent posing as a friend.”

Vietnamese officials have not commented on the case, but the government has in the past denied human rights abuses. The Vietnamese Internet has reportedly been developing since 1997 under the strict control of the Communist Party. In September 2000, the regime proposed a new, inexpensive access formula that would not require a license, Reporters Without Birders said. “Its only drawback is that access is limited to Vietnamese sites,” the group explained.

The latest alleged crackdown on the religious rights forum comes amid international concern over reports of attacks against other Christians openly expressing their faith, particularly in the central highlands of the country.

“The Vietnamese government has stepped up surveillance and intimidation of Degar Montagnard Christians leading up to Christmas in order to stop them from openly celebrating Christmas celebrations this year,” said the US-based Montagnard Foundation Incorporated (MFI).

“This military build up of security forces involves an escalation of threats and intimidation which commenced in November 2005 and involves soldiers occupying Montagnard villages and threatening to arrest and torture Montagnards who pray or celebrate Christmas,” said the organization which investigated the plight of this predominantly Christian ethnic community.

“This Christmas will not be joyful for the Montagnard Degar Christians and currently over 300 of our brothers and sisters remain in prison having been arrested and tortured by Vietnamese authorities,” said MFI.

The Degar, referred to by French colonists as Montagnard, are the indigenous peoples of the central highlands of Vietnam . The term Montagnard means “mountain people” in French and is a carry over from the French colonial period in Vietnam .