Last Updated: Friday, 24 October 2014, 15:39 GMT

Vietnam: Immediately Release Rights Bloggers

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 16 April 2012
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Vietnam: Immediately Release Rights Bloggers, 16 April 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4f97cf9a2.html [accessed 26 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Vietnamese authorities should immediately release the bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (a.k.a Dieu Cay), Phan Thanh Hai (a.k.a Anhbasg), and Ta Phong Tan and drop all charges against them, Human Rights Watch said today. The People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City will reportedly convene a criminal trial against them on April 17, 2012, for conducting propaganda against the state under article 88 of the penal code. 

The three bloggers are founding members of the Club for Free Journalists, which they established in September 2007 to promote freedom of expression and independent journalism.  During the first few months the club was operating, members covered sensitive news and events that were either suppressed or ignored by local authorities and the government-controlled media. Some of their reports covered wild-cat strikes by industrial workers in Binh Duong province, the trial of prominent dissidents such as Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai, 2008 protests against the Beijing Olympics, land disputes between Catholic churches and local governments, and the 2007 protests by Buddhist monks in Burma.

However, shortly after the club was founded, police began to harass, intimidate and detain its members, starting with the arrest of Nguyen Van Hai, the founding manager, in April 2008.

"Economic development and social stability require freedom of expression, and an independent media to report on issues and abuses that government officials want to sweep under the rug," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Locking up bloggers does nothing to suppress or solve the controversies they reported. The authorities have not just violated the rights of these authors, but of their readers as well."

Nguyen Van Hai, a 60-year-old war veteran, received the prestigious Hellman Hammett award in 2009 for writers who have suffered persecution as a result of their writings. He has been arrested and interrogated repeatedly by Ho Chi Minh City police since he participated in multiple protests against China between December 9, 2007 and January 19, 2008. Police arrested him on April 20, 2008, nine days before the Beijing Olympic torch traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, and later prosecuted him on a trumped-up tax evasion charge. On September 10, 2008, the People's Court of District Three sentenced him to two years and six months in prison.

On October 20, 2010, the day he finished his prison term, police officials refused to release him. Instead, the authorities came up with a new charge that he had violated article 88 of the Penal Code by carrying out "propaganda against the Socialist Republic." His former wife, Duong Thi Tan, who was preparing to pick him up from the prison, was detained and interrogated by police in Ho Chi Minh City, and authorities searched her house. "Vietnam shamelessly constructs spurious legal charges and rationales to keep peaceful critics like Nguyen Van Hai behind bars," Robertson said. "This latest charge reveals the reality that the authorities locked him up for nothing more than political reasons."

Phan Thanh Hai, 43, is a dissident writer who blogs under the pen name "Anhbasg" or "Anh Ba Sai Gon." His writings aim to promote government transparency, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. After he participated in a protest in Ho Chi Minh City against the Beijing Olympics in December 2007, police put him under intrusive surveillance, detained, and interrogated him many times.

Although he finished his legal studies in 2008 and fulfilled all requirements to become a practicing lawyer, his application was turned down by the Justice Ministry because of his involvement in protests and his blogging activities. Regular police harassment has effectively prevented him from securing regular employment. On October 18, 2010, police arrested him in Ho Chi Minh City for allegedly conducting propaganda against the state under article 88 of the penal code. Phan Thanh Hai received the Hellman Hammett award in 2011.

Ta Phong Tan, 44, is a former police officer and a former communist party member. She began her writing career as a freelance journalist in 2004. Her articles appeared in many mainstream newspapers including Tuoi Tre (Youth), Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborer), Vietnam Net, Phap Luat TP Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law), Thanh Tra (Inspectorate), Can Tho, and Binh Duong. Since March 2006 dozens of her articles have been published on the website of BBC's Vietnamese service. This eventually prompted the Communist Party of Vietnam to revoke her membership.

Since she began her blog, Justice & Truth (Cong ly & Su that) in November 2006, she has become one of the most prolific bloggers in Vietnam. She has written more than 700 articles about social issues, including the mistreatment of children, official corruption, unfair taxation of poor people, and grievances connected to illegal land confiscations by local officials. In addition, using her knowledge of police work, she provides insightful observations about widespread abuse of power by the police in Vietnam.

As a result of her writing, the police have repeatedly harassed her. Since 2008 she has been detained and interrogated on numerous occasions about her activities, her associates, and the contents of her blog. Ta Phong Tan was arrested on September 5, 2011. She also received the Hellman Hammett award in 2011.

"With more than seven hundred state-controlled media outlets and thousands of pro-government web portals, the Vietnam government has a giant propaganda machine working to beautify the face of the state," Robertson said. "So what do the authorities have to fear from a handful of bloggers, equipped with only personal cameras and computers, and why are they so determined to persecute them?"

Excerpts from the blogs of Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan:

Vietnam does not have the rule of law; it only has the rule of the Party. The law was compromised to protect police officers and Party members who abuse power.

— Nguyen Van Hai (a.k.a Dieu Cay), "Hoang Hai to everyone!" June 28, 2007.

Blogging is an escape route for those whose ideas and actions are imprisoned. It allows one to express resistance against injustice and violence. Blogging is where an individual can express his/her desire for freedom.

— Phan Thanh Hai (a.k.a. Anhbasg), "Blog is creating a 'civil society' of perfection and freedom," October 3, 2007.

I am a free journalist. I write about what I see and hear. I comment on social issues as I understand them. I expose the victimization of people like myself and my friends by the State of Vietnam. I defend people without power who suffer injustice. But the Vietnamese state wants to silence me. Their cadres told me I was not allowed to write about anything that touches the state. The Vietnamese state is controlling every aspect of Vietnamese society. Anything I wrote can be interpreted as touching upon the state. An article I posted on my blog which retold a dream I had ('Last night I dreamt of meeting the old Marx') was accused of 'distortion.' This Vietnamese state even controls people's dreams. The people only have the rights to dream as they are told.

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