"We are gravely concerned about the case of detained Vietnamese medical doctor Nguyen Dan Que, who has been held in incommunicado detention since his arrest on March 17," wrote committee Chairman Torsten Wiesel in a letter dated Sept. 22. On the same date, Wiesel and 11 other Nobel laureates petitioned Nong Duc Manh, secretary general of the Vietnamese Communist Party, on behalf of their scientific colleague.
They expressed their "deep concern" about the welfare of Que, who reportedly suffers from high blood pressure, kidney problems and peptic ulcers. His family has not been allowed to see him or to provide him with the necessary medicines.
Que was arrested four days after writing a communiqué that criticized government claims that freedom of information is respected in Vietnam. "It would appear that he is imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of his beliefs," the scientists wrote to the Hanoi official.
The National Academies in Washington comprises the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.
In his letter to Powell, Wiesel wrote that Que, seriously ill, was being held in contravention of the United Nations' Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. "Thus, I am writing to ask you to consider the case during you upcoming meeting with the foreign minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Dy Nien."
Wiesel wrote that Que "is internationally respected for peacefully promoting human rights and democracy in Vietnam, and he has done so at great personal cost." Que has spent some 18 years in prison and five years under house arrest.
Que's brother, Quan Nguyen, practices medicine in Annandale, Va. In a phone interview, the doctor told United Press International that one of the reasons for the Vietnamese foreign minister's visit was to lobby against Senate passage of the Vietnam Human Rights Bill 2003. This could not be immediately verified, but the Hanoi government has strenuously opposed the legislation. An earlier version of the bill passed the House of Representatives 410-1 on Sept. 6, 2001, but Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., placed a hold on its coming to a vote on the Senate floor. As an amendment to the State Department appropriations bill, it passed the House again on July 16, 2003, by a vote of 382-42.
Que has had several chances to leave Vietnam, his brother said, first in 1975, the year North Vietnam conquered the Republic of Vietnam. "He wanted to stay to serve the country and teach in medical school and to treat the poor."
The second opportunity came when Que was imprisoned in 1998. "The Communists were trying to force him out," Quan Nguyen said. "They said they would keep him forever (imprisoned) unless he agreed to leave the county, but he refused that. The Vietnamese Communists asked (then-U.S.) Ambassador (Pete) Peterson to help. He asked me to talk to Dr. Que (by telephone) in prison. I did that. I talked to Que, and Que said: 'Exile is not freedom.' He said the right to stay or leave the country belonged to him, not the government. He would rather stay in prison than be forced into exile."
Que was released from prison and put under house arrest in September 1998.