By Attorney Nguyen Van Dai
Hanoi — Vietnam is a one-party state and the government is determined to keep it that way. The Communist Party exerts tight controls on all aspects of social livelihood, especially the press and media. Article 69 of the 1992 Constitution stipulates “citizens are entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.” The Vietnamese government even signed on to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1982.
Yet the rights to free speech and free media are tightly monitored and controlled by three government agencies: the Party’s Central Propaganda Department, the Ministry of Information and Communications, and the Ministry of Public Security.Currently there are 30 million Internet users in Vietnam of which seven million are active on social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Approximately 30 thousand Vietnamese write on blogs every day.
Internet security officials closely monitor blogs that publish articles on topics such as democracy, human rights, anti-corruption, and criticisms of the government, with firewalls enacted at will. Despite this, well-known blogs including Bauxit, Basam, Nguyen Xuan Dien, and Que Choa have hundreds of thousands of viewers per day.
At the same time, Public Security officials follow, harass, arrestandimprison bloggers that express political views or criticisms of the government on their blogs. For example, Blogger Paulus Le Son, a Catholic youth widely known in Vietnam and the international community for his excellent blog pieces, is imprisoned. He is active in gathering news during the government crackdowns of Thai Ha diocese and disseminating news online.
Members of the “Free Journalists’ Club” including bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay), Phan Thanh Hai (AnhBaSG) and Ta Phong Tan expressed political views, commentaries on democracy, human rights and critique of the government on their blogs. Public Security offices have been holding them in prison arbitrarily without trial for almost two years.
The mother of blogger Ta Phong Tan, Ms. Dang Thi Kim Lieng, repeatedly requested the Ministry of Public Security to see her daughter. Her requests were denied. Distraught at the unfair treatment by government officials, she protested against the detention of her daughter by settingherselfalight in front of government offices in Bac Lieu.
The imprisonment of aforementioned bloggers and Ms. Dang Thi Kim Lieng’s self-immolation created widespread outrage from people in Vietnam and around the world. The international community also expressed their concerns over these incidents. The United States and other counties, including international human rights agencies have repeatedly called on the government of Vietnam to release all imprisoned bloggers and activists.
Bloggers that are constantly harassed but not imprisoned find themselves out of a job, are fined exorbitant fees, and often have to relocate. Their lives became exponentially difficult as they face these circumstances.
Despite these challenges, the blogger community grewoverthepastyearto satisfy the need for information for those in Vietnam and around the world. The Vietnamese blogger community made two important contributions. First, through their writing, they helped raise awareness and understanding of human rights, principles of democracy, and social issues. Secondly, they can disseminate truthful information quickly, especially on sensitive issues that state-owned media would not report on, including the land evictions of farmers in Tien Lang, Van Giang, Vu Ban, and anti-China protests in 2011 and 2012. The blogger community succeeded in thwarting the government’s attempt to cover up the reporting of such sensitive issues.
Looking ahead, the blogger community will continue to face these challenges and harassment from the government. They may be arrested and imprisoned at any time. Blogs will continue to be blockedbyfirewalls. But their thirst for freedom and democracy will continuetobeexpressed.
The blogger community will grow larger and get stronger. They are and will continue to be a pioneering force in the people’s movement for a democratic Vietnam. I am certain their contributions will be recorded in the history books of the people of Vietnam.