Vietnamese doctor to receive human rights award from NY Academy of Sciences

September 03, 2004

Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, a 61-year old Vietnamese medical doctor who has dedicated his life to improving the lives of the Vietnamese people and who has spent nearly 25 years in prison or under house arrest, has been named the recipient of the 2004 Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award by the New York Academy of Sciences.

The Pagels prize, awarded annually in recognition of services on behalf of the human rights of scientists, will be bestowed at the Academy's Annual Meeting on Monday, September 13, 2004. at 6:30 p.m. Dr. Que will be cited "in recognition of his courage and singular moral responsibility as a medical doctor committed to the welfare and health care of the Vietnamese people and for peacefully promoting human rights in Vietnam."

Joseph L.Birman, chair of the Academy's human rights committee, said that Dr. Que was chosen because of his "unwavering efforts to improve the daily lives of people in Vietnam and to promote a peaceful transition to democracy and freedom there." Prof. Birman added that Dr. Que, who is the founder of the Vietnamese Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights, was rearrested in March 2003 and has been held incommunicado since then.

Clinic for the Poor

Dr. Que has been committed to providing medical care for the poor since graduating from medical school in 1966, including a free clinic he founded and staffed with volunteer doctors, nurses, and medical students. One of the first of many examples of his civil courage was his willingness to treat students and others who were injured during demonstrations against the government.

After further medical studies in Europe under a scholarship from the World Health Organization, Dr. Que returned to Vietnam to join the Saigon University Faculty of Medicine and, later, director of the Cho-Ray Hospital. He also resumed his work at the free medical clinic, where he became well know for his efforts on behalf of the poor, especially from rural areas. In the late 1970s, he challenged the government's health care policies and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned for 10 years without charge or trial.

Even after his release in an amnesty in 1988, he continued to speak out for basic human rights in Vietnam and demanded the government invest in the welfare of the people and reductions in the military. Charged with "activities aimed at overthrowing the People's government," he was rearrested in 1990. During his imprisonment under harsh conditions, Dr. Que did whatever he could to improve the health care of his fellow inmates, even performing minor surgery with homemade instruments.

Released again under a presidential amnesty in August 1998, Dr. Que's health had worsened considerably and he was unable to walk without assistance. Refusing to leave the country, he was held under house arrest for over four years but continued to promote respect for human rights. For example, in addition to appealing to the government to improve prison conditions, he wrote articles calling for democracy and for better treatment of indigenous minorities.

Harassment of Dr. Que intensified, including 24-hour surveillance, disconnection of his telephone and Internet service, and interrogation of visitors. After writing an article criticizing recent Vietnamese government claims that there is freedom of information in Vietnam, he was arrested once more in March 2003.

"Repeated requests to visit Dr. Que of even just speak to him by telephone by his family, as well as international diplomats, have all been denied," said Prof. Birman. "Given his current isolation and the fact that he was denied medical care during his previous incarcerations, it is feared that he may not be receiving any medical attention for his grave ill health."

Pagels Award

The Academy's first human rights award was given in 1979 to Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov. Renamed in 1988 in honor of former Academy president Heinz R. Pagels, the award has been bestowed on such imminent scientists as Chinese dissident Fang Li-Zhi, Russian Nuclear Engineer Alexander Nikitin, and Cuban Economist Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.
The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, nonprofit organization of more than 23,000 members worldwide committed to building communities and advancing science, since 1817.

New York Academy of Sciences

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