Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang, who is to meet with US President Barack Obama tomorrow, heads a country that is second only to China in the number of bloggers and netizens it is currently detaining – 35. Serving long sentences of up to 13 years in prison on trumped-up charges, they are the victims of his government’s determined persecution of dissident voices.
Reporters Without Borders has just launched a petition for the immediate and unconditional release of all these bloggers. Although it has been online for just a few days, it has already been signed by more than 3,000 people, demonstrating the rightness of this cause and the support it is attracting.
“Bloggers do an essential job by providing information that is more reliable and impartial than that carried by the Vietnamese media, which follow orders and are closely censored,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“After the recent wave of arrests instigated by the Vietnamese Communist Party, we decided that our targeted support activities should be reinforced by a global support initiative, so that the fate of all these bloggers is not forgotten.
“This petition, the first to support all bloggers jailed in Vietnam, is aimed at all those – bloggers and ordinary Internet users in Vietnam and elsewhere – who want to make the Vietnamese government aware of their disapproval of its use of the charges of anti-government propaganda or endangering state security to persecute netizens just for posting information that is usually filtered by the authorities.
“We call for their immediate and unconditional release, the lifting of censorship and the repeal of the repressive laws that are used against bloggers and netizens, especially articles 88 and 79 of the criminal code.”
Closely watched media
According to official figures, Vietnam has more than 700 news media, including print media, online media and radio and TV stations, but all are owned by state entities and all are subject to the Vietnamese Communist Party’s absolute control.
Unlike its Chinese neighbour, Vietnam has no censorship office but the media are nonetheless closely supervised by the party’s various bodies.
All of the editors of media such as VTV, VOV, Nhan Dan, Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People’s Army), Cong An Nhan Dan (People’s Public Security), Lao Dong, Tien Phong, Thanh Nien and Phu Nu, and the heads of the provincial propaganda and education department have to travel regularly to Hanoi to receive instructions from the head of the Communist Party’s Central Department of Propaganda and Education.
The existence of informative blogs is essential given the complete absence of privately-owned media. But blogs such as Bauxite Vietnam and the alternative news agency Ba Sam are often blocked or are the targets of devastating cyber-attacks, and their owners are liable to be arrested or are otherwise harassed for posting information that does not toe the party line.
The 35 bloggers and netizens currently detained include the human rights activist Dieu Cay, who began a hunger strike a month ago in protest against his prison conditions. In an exclusive interview for Reporters Without Borders on 19 July, Bui Thanh Hieu, a blogger also known as Nguoi Buon Gio (Wind Trader), called for an international campaign for Dieu Cay, whose health is failing (watch the video).
Those punished for what they posted online include the cyber-dissident Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, the jurist and human rights defender Cu Huy Ha Vu, the lawyer Le Quoc Quan and the blogger Ta Phong Tan, whose mother took her own life by setting fire to herself in 2012 in an act of despair about the way her daughter had been treated.
The Vietnamese authorities sentenced 48 human rights defenders to a total of 166 years in prison and 63 years of probation in 2012 alone. They included 22 people who were convicted of anti-government propaganda under article 88. Earlier this year, 14 young Catholics, including eight bloggers, were convicted of “trying to overthrow the people’s government.”
Vietnam is ranked 172nd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and featured in the 2013 “Enemies of the Internet” Special Report on Surveillance.
Read the letter of support for the blogger Dieu Cay – co-signed by RWB – that was sent to US President Barack Obama.
Read the letter of support for the lawyer Le Quoc Quan - co-signed by RWB - that was sent to US President Barack Obama.