A Catholic teacher has been fired from her job and may face criminal charges for allegedly encouraging her students to access to Web-sites containing “politically sensitive materials.”

Miss Nguyen Thi Bich Hanh, 28, has been accused of "taking advantages of her teaching position to disseminate counter-revolution thoughts, speaking ill of communist leaders and distorting their images in the heart of children, seriously offending state policy on education, and advertising for anti-communist Web sites which spread slanders against the government," the People's Public Security Newspaper reported on June 1.

The newspaper, run by Vietnam police, reported that Hanh, a Literature teacher at Nguyen Binh Khiem Special High school for Gifted Students at Tam Ky, Quang Nam, a province in the central of Vietnam, has been subjected to harassment after her students started looking for information from Web-sites classified as "anti-revolutionary" by Vietnam government.

Soon after her students started accessing to these sites, police launched an investigation on the children. Eventually Hanh, herself, had also suffered from police continuous lengthy interrogations before being terminated by the Provincial Department of Education.

Speaking to Radio Free Asia, Hanh said she did nothing wrong to be fired and she was sacked due in good part to her Catholic background.

According to her account, as more and more children in Vietnam browsing on the Internet for playing online games, downloading music, writing blogs, sending e-mail or using instant message services to chat on a daily basis, Hanh just simply wanted to discuss with her students on benefits Internet can bring about, as well as pitfalls awaiting them. As teacher, Hanh felt obligated to educate her young students on how to use the internet in a constructive way, and how to search for, gather, and analyze useful, correct information from it.

Also, from her own experience as an avid reader and a truth seeker, Hanh now and then has encouraged her students to look for stories, poems, and other writings published prior to the communist era when Vietnamese authors had freedom to express their thoughts and their sentiments. In her belief that she shared with her students, freedom is the essential condition of artists’ creative work. While it is extremely difficult to find these writings in Vietnam, they are available free on Internet from Web-sites run by Vietnamese people living outside the country.

Last November, a report from Vietnam Internet Network Information Center claimed a number of up to 20,669,285 Internet users (24.0% of the population). Another report from AFP on Feb 20, 2006 said that Vietnam government had announced plans to increase the country’s Internet penetration to 35% by 2010.

Along with the plans to increase Internet users, Vietnam government has been applying a strict online political censorship. The extensive regulation of Internet access using both legal and technical means has filtered out sites that contain sensitive materials that might undermine the Communist Party's hold on power. While Reporters without Borders considers Vietnam one of 15 "internet enemies", Amnesty International reported many instances of Internet activists being arrested for their online activities.

Most Web-sites run by Vietnamese in Diaspora, and most of Western Catholic media outlets have been blocked by the government.

However, the sites that Hanh introduced to her students still can be accessed in Vietnam. This makes she believe she has been discriminated against due to her Catholic faith.

“The local authority had accused me of having such a different mentality as a result of being a Catholic, with a questionable background,” she said, disclosing the fact that her father had been sent to a communist re-education camp.

Generally speaking, Catholics are not welcomed to take part in Vietnam education system. Hanh was even a very exceptional case. Her family's situation was much harder for her to gain a teaching position: her father, Mr. Nguyen Quoc Anh, a gifted Mathematician, has been jailed in an education camp more than 20 years for his apostolic activities and his defense for the Catholic faith. While in prison, he wrote articles relating to Linear Differential Equations, so thought provoking that several college officials had invited him to give speeches at Hanoi University, but his thesis has never been publicly acknowledged by the Education Ministry for the same political charged reason.

Having outstandingly completed a postgraduate degree in Vietnamese Literature at Dalat University, Hanh was employed by Provincial Department Education of Quang Nam - Da Nang under a special policy of talented people recruitment in 2002. Despite of being regarded as one of the most respected teachers at her school, she, however, had not received any recognition or promotion as a result of being an active catechist at her parish.

Many Catholics in Vietnam have viewed the incident as a sign of a tough road ahead, an era of difficulty and hardship for Catholics who work in the public section to bear. Normally, high school teacher being fired does not make headline. The fact that the People's Public Security Newspaper and other state media outlets reported the news of her termination conveys a threatening message from Vietnam government to all teachers with ties to religions in Vietnam.